How does one start a review for a movie like this? A movie with so much praise, but at the same time, so much controversy. It won a lot of awards, yes, but does it condone violence on people left and right? Should it win dozens more awards? Should it not? Is it a masterpiece or is it incel garbage that deserves no time of day? These are all valid questions, some more than others, and I have answers to all of them.
As a born and bred comic book geek, I usually give a lot of comic book movies a free pass whenever they screw up. I forgave Man of Steel for having its Superman kill, I forgave BvS for having Batman kill, and I even forgave Thor: the Dark World for existing. To say I am lenient would be nothing short of truth. Which is why when I saw the trailers for Joker, I knew I would have to be seeing it from a different perspective.
All comic book movies, with the exception of a brave few, are movies rather than “film” or “cinema.” That’s not a bad thing, as movies have the power to entertain and can – occasionally – convey the powerful message. Sometimes, however, movies don’t need to say anything at all and can just be a soul source of entertainment. But “film” and “cinema,” as the snobs would put it, are powerful statements that can be life changing across the entire industry; “a true testament to art and life itself” as my old European film teacher would put it. There are differences between the two and anyone who tells you otherwise are either dumb or liars. You pick.
So not only do I have to go into the Joker with that mentality, I also had to go in with the controversies that UNFORTUNATELY surrounded it. Was the shooting back in 2012 tragic? Yes, it freaking was. Should it be connected to this movie? No. Do I think that after seeing it, someone will grab a gun and shoot up another theater? No. Movies and cinema have the power to influence, but I think that people seeing Joker will be able to tell the difference between right and wrong. And to say that the Joker is a mascot for incels is complete and utter nonsense. Not once during this movie did I think “incel” or “mass shooter.”
So with all that out of the way, how does the Joker stand as a movie? Well… it’s a damn masterpiece. Every aspect of this film has been well thought out and executed with utmost care and respect that any masterpiece can get or deserve. There hasn’t been a film in years that I can point to and say with full sincerity “THAT. THAT RIGHT THERE IS A MASTERPIECE.” Joker is not a movie but a film and a damn fine one at that.
It’s so rare to find movies these days without a dull performance and Joker stands out as one of them. Not a single actor or extra is wasted and everyone gives their A-game. Zazie Beetz is great and her character actually has a real point in being here. Frances Conroy as Penny is surprisingly layered, with thought and meaning put into every scene she’s in. Robert De Niro gives the second best performance in the film, with a character performance that’s not himself. De Niro could have easily phoned it in, but instead tripled down and gave a performance eerily similar to the opposite of his King of Comedy role. And Brett Cullen’s take on Thomas Wayne was a refreshing alternative to other interpretations of Bruce Wayne’s father, juxtaposing the kind philanthropist with first-class attitude of “you’re not rich, you’re trash.” Or in this case, “you’re clowns”.
But I know why you really came. You came for the Phoenix, and damn does he deliver. Just as I said that this was a masterpiece, Joaquin Phoenix himself gives the single best performance that I have seen in YEARS. Not since Day-Lewis in Lincoln have I seen an actor transform and transcend himself into a role so convincingly that you can’t even recognize the man — only the character. He is the single best aspect of the movie, giving it his all both in mentality and weight that leaves you grinning nervously while chuckling madly. I know it’s been said over and over since its festival release, but it’s true: if Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t get an Oscar for his role, then the whole thing is rigged. Best Performance of the Year? Try Best Performance of the Past Five Years. It’s really is as good as people say, not necessarily surpassing Heath Ledger’s performance, but rather rivaling it.
Who do you think of when you think of well-written, well-directed drama? Christopher Nolan? Martin Scorsese? Quentin Tarantino? Steven Spielberg? All good choices, but how does Todd Phillips sound? You know, the guy who directed such classics as Old School, War Dogs and the Hangover trilogy. To say I had my doubts as to whether Phillips could pull this movie off is an understatement. I thought he would be the downfall of this movie, choosing to go with shock factor over good story telling. Never, in my entire life have I ever been more thankful to be more wrong.
Todd Phillips is the glue that holds this movie together. His vision is what got us Joaquin Phoenix’s take of the Joker and his writing, while weird at two points in the movie, is sharp, hard hitting, and well-executed. For a first time drama director, Phillips really gets what made each character tick and ensures his actors stayed true to that vision. If he does not win an award, Phillips should at least be nominated, as his work on Joker should not go unnoticed.
But what technical aspects make Joker such a masterpiece? The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is amongst the best that I have seen. I previously thought that Blade Runner 2049 had it in the bag with Roger Deakins, but Sher gives us some of the most beautifully executed shots of all time. Every frame, every shot, every light, and every shadow has meaning as well as beauty. Without these colors and cinematography, we would not be as connected to this film as we could be. Mixed with the music by composer Hildur Guðnadóttir and we get a score that, while familiar, is unsettlingly beautiful and fits the Joker’s world perfectly.
The story is probably where a lot of people might find problems with Joker, as it’s a sort of “reskin” of two classic Martin Scorsese movies: King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Just as Arthur looks up to De Niro’s Murray Franklin, Phillips definitely looks up to Scorsese to a point where a lot of the shots and narrative beats are executed exactly how Scorsese would do it. But that’s not a bad thing, as Scorsese has proven himself to be one of the great filmmaking auteurs. In some cases, copying someone’s style is the greatest form of flattery, and Joker makes no exception to that rule.
If you have seen either Scorsese film, you can almost predict this movie beat for beat. While that is quite unfortunate, there are still a lot of moments I know no one will see coming. Those who have not seen the two films are in for a treat as their stories were already so unique and perfect that they are worth reshaping and retelling. The only real downside of it is that if you know this going in, you’ll be able to pick out the countless references like candy in a store. Overall, the story was perfect for a Joker origin and fits the movie’s dark and serious tone.
Will Joker go down as a cinematic classic? Absolutely. Does it deserve all the hate and negative press/reviews? No, but also yes. Like every movie it’s subjective and, where one man might find it to be a masterpiece, another one won’t. The movie leaves you feeling hopeless and glum and that’s good — for me. I know many will not like it, but they should not like it because it’s not in their wheelhouse, not because they think it’s going to cause some asshole to shoot up a school or something. If we looked at all movies that way, then we’d be giving Endgame 10/10 across the board because we think it will make people go out and become real superheroes. The logic behind the argument of “It’S GoNNa mAKe PEopLe KilL EaCH otHeR” is a dumb one and really doesn’t hold water.
What I took away from Joker was as followed: The rich may seem to care about the common man, but more likely than not they don’t care. Mental health must be addressed and one way of not doing that is cutting funding and programs that can help people like Arthur fit into society. And society can be just as big of a villain as one singular person. The people that the Joker doesn’t kill are the people that are nice to him, who showed him decency and humanity. If you want to take something away from this movie, here it is.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Stars
Joker is a fine piece of cinema that deserves all the praise it gets. It really is a masterpiece and one of the best things I have seen in a while. Phoenix’s portrayal shouldn’t have to be compared to Ledger’s because they’re two completely different entities that can be enjoyed equally. This is only my take so go out and see it for yourself. I know I’ll be seeing it again very soon.