by Tim Levine, Executive Editor
Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, is an utterly dark and riveting origin tale of the quintessential Batman villain that will forever change perceptions of what a comic book movie can be.
Set in 1981 Gotham City, Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck. A man that works as a clown and wants to be a stand-up comedian. He suffers from mental illness, having to visit a social worker and constantly asking for a bigger prescription. He is not happy, but no one in this grim world he lives in seems to be.
Gotham City shows a gross and decaying society, one with rats infesting the streets and rich seeming to continue to prosper while the others are left behind. The setting seems to parallel the Wall Street society of New York but adding a much darker tone and shade to the landscape. People are getting angrier and it is only a matter of time before the city cracks.
Arthur Fleck feels as if he is one of those people, as though the world steps over him. He is isolated and only has his mother who he cares for in their small apartment, as he gets more and more delusional by the day. The movie depicts his quick and dark descent into madness where the lines of fiction and reality become increasingly blurred.
While not necessarily staying true to any prior origin stories of the clown prince of crime, the story is brilliant in its own right, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the character, an individual haunted by darkness. Phillips breaks the norms of a comic book movie in a manner that truly lets the viewer look into the mind of not just a villain, but one troubled man.
Joaquin Phoenix does an excellent job of portraying the Joker, showing the transition of the character quickly yet with clear intent throughout the film. The shallow and shy shell that Phoenix portrays early on is juxtaposed with the final rebirth of the character near the end of the film, showing the Joker breaking out of his shell and become the character we all know.
While Phoenix’s acting does the character no faults, certain depictions of his mental state seem to show an oversimplification and exaggeration of insanity. Phillips feels as though he needs to spoon-feed the viewer that Arthur is becoming crazy in some scenes when the subtleties in emotion that Phoenix utilizes are more than enough for us to see this transformation. Outside of Phoenix, no one in the remaining cast really stands out as good or bad, but I think this is better for the film, as with the title, all emphasis should be on Joker.
Definitely the best movie I’ve seen this year, Joker does not hold back, and will leave the viewer with a movie experience that will both amaze and haunt. Look out for this film to be a prominent contender in the upcoming award season.