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Joker (2019) - Movie Review

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Joker (2019)

Joker was frightening proposition for this reviewer, who has been a lifelong Batman fanatic. Firstly because it presumed to make the focus of its narrative on one of the greatest antagonists in storytelling history, without the hero; secondly because it wasn’t going to stick with pre-established touchstones of the character; and finally because hyperbole always irks me, and the casting of Joaquin Phoenix and the film’s mission statement pre-lauded success before they’d even shot a frame. While there is zero doubt that Phoenix had the acting chops to pull off a great performance, the challenge of making the Joker the main character of a film still warranted restraint.

Until today.

"It is a remarkable performance that is nuanced, violent and perfectly executed"

The Joker has had many origin stories, all varied and inconsistent, depending on the source, the decade, and the talent behind which version is being depicted. He has in all versions been a mysterious anarchy, an unreliable narrator, and a danger to anyone foolish or unfortunate enough to be in his wheelhouse. In keeping with the notion that the Joker could tell you a thousand different versions of how he came to be, Todd Phillip’s dour, gritty take masterfully works as one of those stories, and I encourage you to see it that way.

The cruelty of Gotham and the descent of a broken man into the villain we all love to hate, tells the tale of one Arthur Fleck, a down and out clown for hire, and wannabe comedian. In this oppressive city backdrop, we see Arthur endure constant humiliation and ridicule that goes from bad to worse. He is a man trying to make sense of his own inability to experience joy and yet suffers from a mental condition that causes hysterical and uncontrollable laughing. All this leads to Arthur losing his job, being beaten constantly, slipping back and forth into delusions about love and bonding with a beautiful woman or a talk show host he idolizes on TV. This is one quickly crumbling cookie of a human being.

As more adversity comes down on top of him in ever escalating and threatening ways, Arthur himself begins to escalate his responses to it. His actions influence Gotham in toxic and influential ways, emboldening him to go further and further. By the finale, Gotham city will never forget the name: Joker.

Phoenix’s turn at this role is deeply unsettling. This is not a guy you wanna be around. He is off from the first frame. One of those kinds of people that would put you on the back foot from the moment you met them. He is a very unpleasant person to be around, and takes the lion’s share of the film’s running time. The events that push him from broken to psychotic are pitiable, to begin with, but as he escalates what he does and who he has become, he is repellent. It is a remarkable performance that is nuanced, violent and perfectly executed.Joker (2019)

Also cleverly done (although confusing to me, as they said this was a one shot) is the way that Batman’s mythology is folded into the narrative and rounds off the end of the film. It really does allow this version of the Joker to come to bear on future DC films. Whether it does or not, I’ll guess we’ll see.

Phillips definitely takes his direction out the Scorsese play book, right down to casting Robert De Niro as the talk show host Fleck adores. It’s an almost reverential copy of the film giant’s style and works well for film Phillips is making.

The score is littered with very disparate songs and music that are as all over the place as its subject. It works well to highlight Flecks constant state of wrong.

Well now I can say I am frightened for the right reasons. Phoenix’s Joker is one for the records. He accomplishes a character you don’t want to be around and is so far gone by the credits you want Batman to take him out. His road to Hell will incite debate on the motives of nature or nurture, victim or devil, justified or not. A film that doesn’t force one interpretation down its audience’s throat but allows them to decide was, in this reviewer’s view, the only way to do a Joker film. I hate the guy. This worked.

4/5 stars

Joker (2019)


Blu-ray Details:

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Joker (2019)

MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.
121 mins
: Todd Phillips
Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz
: Crime | Drama
Put on a happy face.
Memorable Movie Quote: "When you bring me out, can you introduce me as Joker?"
Theatrical Distributor:
Warner Bros.
Official Site:
Release Date:
October 4, 2019
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: Director Todd Phillips “Joker” centers around the iconic arch nemesis and is an original, standalone fictional story not seen before on the big screen. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is indelibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. A clown-for-hire by day, he aspires to be a stand-up comic at night…but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty, Arthur makes one bad decision that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.

Joker (2019)

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