Film Review: Joker (2019)

Release Date: August 31st, 2019 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hildur Guonadottir
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Marc Maron, Sondra James

BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, DC Films, Joint Effort, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.” – Arthur Fleck

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

When this movie was first announced, I didn’t want it. The Joker does not need an origin story. In fact, part of what makes him work so well is that who he is, or was, is a mystery. The Joker is a fucked up force of nature and that’s all he needs to be.

However, if I’m being honest, there have been Joker origins in the comics over the years and there are a few I like. Now none of them are actually considered canon and they all contradict one another, which is something that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight sort of entertained with Heath Ledger’s Joker, as every time he told the story about how he got his scars, it was a different tale.

So as a standalone story, within its own universe, I can accept this concept. This is essentially an Elseworlds tale but at its core, this really isn’t so much a movie about the Joker character, as much as it is an examination of all the things that surround the creation of this specific fucked up force of nature.

By the time the second trailer for this rolled around, I started anticipating this immensely, as that’s the moment where I was sold on this picture.

However, the trailer showed that this film was a very strong homage to early Martin Scorsese movies, specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I was kind of worried that this would tap into those pictures too much and just try to emulate them. But Joker is very much its own thing that goes in its own direction and while it channels those great Scorsese films, it doesn’t rely on them too heavily or use them as crutches to prop up the production.

So just to put it out there, Joker is an absolute masterpiece.

It is the best film in the comic book movie genre that I’ve seen since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In fact, this may surpass it but I need to see how I feel after a few more viewings and after I process and digest this more. It’s still fresh in my memory, as I saw it about eight hours ago and it’s all my mind has been pondering over the course of the day.

I found it fitting that Robert De Niro was in this, being that he was the star of those two Scorsese films this channels. But the man was utter perfection playing opposite of the roles he was in, back in the day. His career sort of comes full circle and in a way, he legitimizes this movie and he hands the reins of greatness over to Joaquin Phoenix, one of the best actors of our time, who gave one of the three best performances of his career: the other two being Walk the Line and The Master.

The first thing a few people asked me today was who’s a better Joker: Joaquin Phoenix or Heath Ledger? That’s really not an answerable question. While they both play a version of the same character, they really aren’t the same character. They play their roles very differently, in two very different films. Both were brilliant performances but they’re not really comparable. And maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense but I think it’ll be easier to understand after seeing this movie.

It doesn’t stop with Phoenix and De Niro though, as every actor in this was incredible. Zazie Beetz rose to the next level, as did Frances Conroy, who gives a stupendous performance. Even very minor characters were superb, specifically Marc Maron, who I wish had more scenes, and Leigh Gill, who played the dwarf that was the only character Joker spared because he was the only person in his life that was kind to him. As small as Gill’s role was, the guy was astounding. The scene in Joker’s apartment was one of the many high points of the film but its definitely one of the top two or three scenes and most of the credit should go to Gill, who was so convincing that it was almost too real.

Getting to the director, Todd Phillips, I wasn’t in any way sold on this guy doing this movie. He was a comedy writer and director and didn’t have any experience working on something as dramatic as this was going to need to be. But that’s my mistake and I judged the guy unfairly. However, my skepticism was still probably founded in the fact that this really was a new challenge for him. And frankly, I wasn’t a big fan of his other work but maybe I need to go back and give his previous films another shot. Because even if I’m not big on The Hangover, from memory, I did think that it was a fine film visually.

And that brings me to the visuals of this picture.

Joker had breathtaking cinematography.

What’s really cool, is that the movie commits to the bit from the get go, as it uses the Warner Bros. logo from the late ’70s. It then immediately gives you the opening shots of Gotham City (really, New York City) shot in a way that looks like it is presented on actual celluloid with a bit of a grain to it. But it doesn’t look like some bullshit modern filter that doesn’t look authentic because you can tell it’s a digital effect. This looks like the real thing and frankly, it immediately makes your brain feel like it is watching a long, lost Scorsese picture.

Additionally, everything in this movie is lit like it is a film from that era. The world these characters live in, the interiors of Joker’s apartment to his place of employment feel like they are genuinely small pieces of the low income areas of ’70s New York City. In fact, the film doesn’t fully feel like it slips into true HD until the big finale that sees the Joker make his introduction to the world, live on television.

The musical score and the use of classic pop tunes is also well done. The music doesn’t solely create the film’s atmosphere, it is just one part of the bigger, well refined and fine tuned machine, but it is a really important part.

For some reason, this film is controversial. The media thinks it’s going to inspire incel white men to murder theatergoers. Never mind that violent horror movies come and go every month and the media has no problem with those films. Yet, the media is creating fake outrage and fear because they’re the ones who are actually evil. It’s as if they want a tragedy to happen, just so they can say, “I told you so!”

In fact, this film is a fitting one for them to attack and try to destroy because it puts the mainstream media on blast, as well as entertainment and society in general. But the media fears that this will allow people to sympathize with a psycho and in that, it will somehow flip a switch in the audience’s brain like they’re all sleeper agents waiting for this secret, coded message to activate their kill mode. Seriously, what fucking world do we live in in 2019?!

Anyway, when the media or the mainstream manufactures fear, people usually lash out against that and go to see what all the fucking fuss is about. In its first day, Joker already broke the one day October record. I’m sure it will get the weekend record and monthly record for October when it is all said and done.

There has been a lot of hype about this film by those who have seen it. I usually take that shit with a grain of salt. However, the hype isn’t just a response to the media hysteria. Joker is as good as people are saying. I actually plan on seeing it in theaters again and that’s something I rarely do because time is precious and I’m a busy bitch.

The last thing I’ll say though, is that if Joaquin Phoenix, Todd Phillips and this film aren’t nominated for Academy Awards in a few months, the Academy can go fuck itself. And if I’m being honest, I’ll be surprised if it is nominated for the marquee awards. Nowadays, those only go to movies about deaf chicks that fuck fish men and movies that act as fluffers for the politically decrepit film industry.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: early Martin Scorsese films, especially Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

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