Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Review: Joker

Release date: October 4, 2019 (USA)
Running time: 121 minutes
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz  

Joker is the origin story of one of the most iconic villains ever; and fittingly is also the darkest comic book movie I have seen.  

Joaquin Phoenix completely transforms into Arthur Fleck, the man who becomes the Joker.  Phoenix is almost unrecognizable at times, with a completely changed body, new mannerisms, a distinctive new laugh, and a deeply unsettling look in his eyes.  Although the film lists several actors in the credits, this movie is really a one man show.  Phoenix carries the film with his brilliant, dark, twisted, and deeply heartfelt performance.   And carry Phoenix does, dragging the audience along as he descends into madness.  Phoenix's Joker feels the most unpredictable and disturbing of the various portrayals.  Although Ledger's role was iconic, and I don't believe that Phoenix's Joker could have come without the gritty, wet, unkempt Ledger portrayal, Phoenix took that character to another level.  He really embraced the dark, erratic humor and at times there was so much tension in a scene because you didn't know what Phoenix would do next.  

What I loved most about this film is that the movie also feels like the most plausible comic book movie; it feels the most grounded in reality, as if it could actually happen in a twisted mirror world.  The film doesn't have any super effects, super powers, or crazy gadgets; the movie is a character piece that looks into the mind and motivations of one of the most popular, but also most dangerous villains of all time.  The film is set in Gotham, but if you don't know some of the references it could easily be mistaken for 1970s New York. 

If there are any complaints about this film it is that it is very slow at times. There are some parts of the film that are just boring.  But art takes time to develop and the Joker's descent into madness is a slow one that builds throughout this two hour tale.  Additionally, although the score is fantastic overall, there is one song choice that just killed an important scene for me.  And I'm sure many people are not going to love how dark this film is.  But that being said, I wrote years ago how much I liked the different, more serious direction that Man of Steel and the Batman series went when compared to Marvel, and I applaud DC for allowing us to take this twisted journey.  And finally, I’m sure many people are not going to like a movie that glorifies a seriously disturbed person, but I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as an accurate origin story.  What Arthur and eventually the Joker did was not glorified or vilified; it just was.

Joker is a dark and disturbing tale about one man's descent into madness and rebirth as an iconic villain.  It is not going to be for everyone, but this brilliant, unpredictable, and uncomfortable film should not be missed.

Watch it

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