Joker (2019)

Joker (2019)

2019 | R | 118 Minutes

Drama | Thriller | Crime

During the 1980s, a failed stand-up comedian is driven insane and turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City while becoming an infamous psychopathic crime figure.

Overall Rating

8 / 10
Verdict: Good

User Review

  • Joker maniacally descends into madness but really the joke is on us for watching it. Let’s start off with the opinion that automatically grants me a place in the minority club. I didn’t like Joker. I’ll say it again in case it offended you the first time. I really didn’t like Joker. My initial apprehension of the introductory promotional material unfortunately succumbed to all the traps that I knew it would, despite my yearning for astonishment.

    Phillips’ lauded portrayal of arguably the most famous comic book villain to ever exist, is a psychological character study on mental illness and the incitation of anarchic violence. The descent into one’s own madness, driven by anger and self-loathing. For the uninitiated, this proves to be a lucrative viewing experience, particularly for a mainstream comic book film that is not relying on heavily equipped visual effects and exposition, and changes the sub-genre up rather substantially. Whilst I can get onboard with this new direction, to which Phillips given his experience in Hollywood comedy did a applause-worthy transition, it is in need of serious refinement and substance.

    Let’s strip away the DC disguise. Removing the forced implementation of the Wayne’s and any interrogation on Gotham City’s ensuing chaos. What you actually receive is a vacuous psychosis that is as shallow as Fleck’s ostentatious makeup. There’s zero substance. Absolutely nothing. Fleck, aside from his pathological laughter, had minimal development. Infuriating given the promising start. His gradual decline into his own deterioration commenced with some empathy. Gotham’s class war brewing in the subconscious, with Fleck receiving the brunt of the violence as he is attacked multiple times. This direction of the anarchic environment altering his mentality was, dare I say, perfect.

    Yet as soon as I attempted to envelop myself into Gotham’s chaos, Phillips decides to push a mundane plot point regarding his family and actively forces it to be the trigger for Fleck’s downfall. No. He completely missed the point. The social commentary on society’s ignorance moulding the less fortunate into monsters was seemingly abolished early on. The examination of this broken class system that holds the foundations of civilisation, wealth and sanity. Gone. Phillips attempts to hark back to this preliminary theme by forcing Fleck to exert lines including “is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?”, but it never once felt natural.

    Which seamlessly brings me to my next criticism. Phillips, mostly due to his previous features, does not comprehend subtlety whatsoever. As if he spells “subtlety” as “obvious”. Examples? Well, Beetz’ character for one. Underdeveloped and underused, but regardless of those criticisms there’s one scene that summed up Phillips’ comprehension of “delicacy”, well, perfectly. Fleck’s imagination. You know exactly the scene. The whole disappearing flashbacks. Apparently we couldn’t grasp the issue, so Phillips needed to visualise it for us with our eyelids peeled back. Despite every supporting character playing a vital part to his downfall, they each were handled with the clumsiest of hands. The lavish talk show host Murray Franklin, whom Fleck idolises, only implemented to pay homage to Scorsese’s ‘The King of Comedy’.

    Phillips stating that Scorsese’s work was a massive inspiration for Joker, considering the ‘Taxi Driver’ narrative structure, yet rarely dabbling into the empathetic tones that the aforementioned director effortlessly provided in his work. Almost as if Phillips was idolising Scorsese himself. Naturally, embodying his features consequently resulted in a derivative and unimaginative structure that merely borrowed ideas whilst never exploiting them fully.

    Which seems somewhat unfair on Phoenix who truly was the only captivating aspect to this feature. An electric performance that challenged him both physically, especially with the method acting that he relishes, and mentally. Chewing up every single scene, ensuring that the eponymous character is at the forefront constantly. There’s no doubt in my mind he will win awards for this performance, it was that tantalising. Yet despite the nuances he adds to the character, such as the exaggerated running style, he unfortunately is overcompensating for the impassive screenplay.

    But there’s also technical merit. Sher’s cinematography highlighted the darkness manifesting within Gotham by exploiting shaded tints within the filter. Various drone and tracking shots provided variance from the often clinical approach. And the string-based score relating to Fleck’s descent into madness was suitably engrossing.

    Regardless of the appropriation of real-world violence, the controversy surrounding mass shootings and the exploitation of mental illnesses, Joker fails to be the very thing it sets out to be. A character study. A psychosis on the mind. The one-dimensional direction prevented a multi-faceted examination from taking place. Want a better feature? Ramsay’s ‘You Were Never Really Here’. The exact same film, but only perfect. Oh, and Phoenix stars in it too. Because, with regret, Joker has the last laugh, bluntly pointing at us through its masquerading void.