Written by Eric Zimmerman, 10/7/19
“Joker” was directed by Todd Phillips and stars Joaquin Phoenix, and it takes place in 1981 in Gotham City. Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a man disregarded by society who works as a clown-for-hire by day and at night pursues his dream of being a standup comedian. The movie explores his evolution into the Joker. I won’t say anything else about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil so many amazing parts of this movie from the first frame to the last.
Todd Phillips based this movie on the early work of famous director Martin Scorcese specifically “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy”. In an interview with IGN Phillips stated, “I worship Martin Scorcese, like most directors. I grew up worshiping Martin Scorcese. I’m lucky enough to have spent 3 hours with him and I felt bold enough to send him the script. He told me what he thought about it… we talked on the phone and he told me what he loved about it…. It was amazing for me.” Phillips knew that the movie needed to be rated R for the purpose of the genre and the character. Personally, as a huge Joker fan, I’m incredibly grateful for the rating. This character is a mass murdering clown, so I don’t think that a PG-13 rating would be adequate.
Phillips (“The Hangover,” “War Dogs”) wrote the script for this movie with Scott Silver (“8 Mile,” “The Fighter”), and it is a rollercoaster ride. I know this is an overused term, but this really is an exceptional screenplay. The dialogue is mostly clever and snappy, and the plot is unpredictable. I couldn’t see anything coming, and I adored that. One of the biggest praises I can give a movie is if I was thinking about it the next day or not, and I’ve been thinking about this film ever since it appeared in front of me. I will say that there are some minor details in the writing that I have problems with. For instance, there is a bit of goofy and unrealistic dialogue that can take the viewer out of the movie, like when Arthur Fleck says, “They think we’ll all just sit there and take it like good little boys. That we won’t werewolf and go wild, “ referring to wealthy men in society. As to Phillips’ directing, I thought it was great. One could tell that he was really engaging with the actors and he was planning behind the scenes constantly to make his film as great as possible. He defied the poor expectations of him due to his comedy background, and he gave his best work to date.
Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is, to some, known as the essential Joker. However, 11 years later, we now have Phoenix, who is absolute perfection in this role. He lost over 50 pounds for it, clearly showing dedication. I didn’t see Joaquin Phoenix. All I saw was this creepy, damaged, uncomfortable individual. Phoenix is magnetic and raw, and he constantly looks on edge. He manages to make an irredeemable person seem likeable and relatable. The viewer can tell that the character gains more confidence just by his mannerisms, tone, posture, and even his eyes. Also, his laugh is most likely the best live action Joker laugh because it reveals pain and anguish. During his laughter breakouts, Phoenix coughs and drools and cries rambunctiously. This is without a doubt one of the best lead performances I’ve seen. The biggest reason to see this film is to witness the acting history on display.
As the cinematographer for this film, Lawrence Sher did a spectacular job. Sher makes sure that the camera is always on Phoenix’s character, and he uses brilliant extreme close-ups which improve Phoenix’s performance. The photography is constantly through Arthur’s eyes which fit with the story.
Hildur Guðnadóttir did the magnificent score for this movie which, like the cinematography, enhances the film. The score is its own character that also follows Arthur. As the film moves along and Arthur dives deeper into darkness, the score gets louder and faster. Guðnadóttir actually wrote her music based on the script of the film, which was a brilliant idea. There were also many songs used in this film, like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Part 2” and “Send in the Clowns” which fit well within the scenes they were featured in.
“Joker” is an awesome character study that stays realistic and gritty. The movie is creepy and disturbing, and every element is focused on the journey of Arthur Fleck. His actions are violent and somehow majestic, and Phoenix gives the best performance of his career. The script is strong, the score is engaging, and the cinematography is unique. This film is an accurate representation of the iconic character and it does justice to him. This is a milestone in not only the comic book genre, but in film history as a whole. I strongly recommend this instant classic.