Put On a Happy Face
Over the years, we have been treated with numerous cinematic versions of the Joker aka the Clown Prince of Gotham. On the heels of Heath Ledger’s legendary performance, Joaquin Phoenix is tasked to follow with a version of his own. “Joker” follows a struggling man in Gotham City, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), as he survives the harsh times by working as a clown. It becomes very apparent that Arthur also suffers from a few personality disorders as well as other health issues. As the World continues to treat him unkindly, he endures attack after attack on himself and his well-being. With the dream of becoming a famous comedian and hosting a talk show of his own, he unknowingly captures the attention of the Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). After his mother’s, Penny (Frances Conroy), health begins to decline and his life begins to unravel, Arthur is left to confront his inner demons and deal with them the only way he knows how.
Todd Phillips, of a comedy fame (“Road Trip”, “Old School”, “The Hangover” trilogy), ventures into drama in the most explosive way imaginable. “Joker” is a violent, maniacal introspective on the tortured soul. In a society that’s plagued by mass shootings and tragedy, the film’s bleak surroundings of early 1980’s Gotham eerily-blends with ours today. While much of the press surrounding the film lately has been negative and focused solely on the violence, it’s important for me to clarify that “Joker” in no way condones or incites violence. Sure, the film features maniacal themes and features a few instances of extreme violence, but it is a film. There’s nothing more. The film is an overwhelming success for many reasons, but it’s entirely carried by Phoenix. He is a true marvel; delightfully-wicked and entrancing, you won’t dare take your eyes off of him for a second. He commands the screen with every subtle mannerism, laugh, and grin; he’s terrifying but he brings a certain humanity to the role that leaves you feeling split on how you feel about him. Without a doubt, he is the clear frontrunner for Best Actor. Cemented by Phoenix’s outstanding performances, the film features a small, but remarkable cast including De Niro, Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, and Bill Camp. De Niro’s role is also clearly a throwback to “The King of Comedy” and it’s a great inclusion in the story. As for the inclusion of some of Gotham City’s most famous inhabitants, you’ll have to see “Joker” for yourself!
One of the biggest surprises of the film is also its only critique, the film takes quite a long time to reach its crescendo. The pacing doesn’t suffer, but it is a bit shocking how much Arthur is able to endure before he reaches his breaking point. Full of twists and turns, “Joker” will be keep you guessing until the end. At 122 minutes, “Joker” flies-by, especially once the mayhem and carnage begins. The film is dark, but endearing; as you find yourself caring about Arthur and feeling truly concerned for him. Phoenix deserved all of the credit in the World; he embodied a character with tortured soul and gave him humanity and a purpose. Hard to imagine for a film that’s so dark and maniacal, but the human spirit is at the heart “Joker”. The film is sure to be divisive among the masses, but I beg you not to sleep on “Joker”! It’s truly one of 2019’s most memorable films of the year, is sure to be a major awards contender, and it surely has a spot reserved on my year-end Top Films list!
“Joker” is a fantastic, deeply-unsettling descent into madness that leaves you on the edge of your seat!
JOKER is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images, in theaters OCTOBER 4TH!