Dive deep into the depths of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker portrayal, and you’ll find a world without hoods and black capes. Instead, this rumination on Gotham City, uncharacteristically devoid of superheroes and camp, is as dark as things come.
Our Clown Prince of Crime’s origin story is played perfectly by one of the best actors of our generation, managing to both transcend the Batman films that shaped visions of who the anti-hero Joker is and show is a desperate man’s descent into mental insanity.
This isn’t a comic book movie, but a meditation on the lonely and forgotten in this modern age, and how a world that treats the lower classes like dirt breeds a self-hate within them. We watch masquerading street clown and aspiring comedian Arthur Fleck lose it all, and one can’t help but feel sorry for him.
But if you watch Joker, and fail to see the parallels in how the rich and privileged in our society kick those who are already down, you’re missing the point. In the same way instant classic Taxi Driver showed the manic, difficult musings of a man on the brink, Joker is unafraid to show the ugly trangressions against Fleck that lead to a horrifying transformation.
Todd Phillips, director of frat comedies The Hangover, Due Date and Road Trip, does an entire 180 spin, delivering the most somber meditation on the human condition this year. If this writing-directing tour de force isn’t enough to give haters pause, I don’t know will. This is the masterpiece of his career.
Phoenix, though he doesn’t leave the performance of the late, great Heath Ledger behind him, he instead goes in an entirely different direction, leaving us with two masterclass performances and unique takes on the same villain. Phoenix isn’t just incredible: He becomes the Joker, and should garner early chatter for Best Actor.
This is one of the most brutal, violent and uncomfortable cinema experiences you’ll have this year. But you’ll come out talking, thinking and debating.
Joker isn’t a film for anyone, but this seamless, entirely effective film is a true work of sheer brave filmmaking. Those who are affected by its no-holds-barred, admirable scope will forever be changed after seeing it.