On a technical level, Joker is brilliant. The score is fabulous, the script is sharp, and the cinematography is simply incredible. The framing of certain scenes in the film produces pockets of artistic masterpiece. However, the visuals in Joker aren’t even the film’s best feature. Throughout the entire movie, Phoenix was basically saying “Hey Academy, look over here!”. His performance was riveting, dark, unsettling, and raw. He even got the Joker’s laugh right! It proved to be a sight to behold, and was so mesmerizing that I’m having trouble finding the words to describe its nuances and complexity. I would not be surprised if Phoenix proves to be an awards contender, along with De Niro, who performed with such subtle artistry, capturing pure emotion. However, make no mistake: Joker is Joaquin Phoenix’s movie.
Although the plot of Joker feels corny and drawn-out at times, the film is, overall, a fresh take on the Clown Prince of Crime. We certainly haven’t seen this story, with all of its gore and intensity, told through the Joker’s previous cinematic incarnations. DC films are dark, but Joker is pitch-black. The film has enough twists and turns to keep even the most hard-core of fans unsure of what was to come. The Joker, named Arthur Fleck in the film (or A. Fleck, which sounds...familiar), proves to be quite the unreliable narrator, effectively peppering jarring surprises throughout the haze that is Fleck’s perception of reality. Joker is a drama, thriller, comedy, and slasher-esque horror film all in one.
Furthermore, Joker attempts to make the viewer sympathize with a killer, and Phoenix’s performance allows this attempt to prove successful. Joker boasts a questionable portrayal of mental illness, along with graphic violence, that hits a bit too close to home in the modern era. Yet, it is not the violence itself that makes Joker uncomfortable to watch, but rather its realism. Joker is set in a decrepit city that ignores the poor, and follows a man-turned-clown that feels cast out by society, who, due to his anger at the world and lack of emotional support from his family and government, feels driven to kill. This narrative feels all too familiar, and all too much like it might just happen in the real world. The movie, overall, pushes the limits of what audiences can manage to sit through, but not in a distinctively bad way. Whether or not the film is making a commentary on society itself (in which case, it might be trying a bit too hard to seem deep), or rather serving as a physical representation of the mind of the everyman, is a question for individual, personal pondering. Yet, despite its flaws, Joker still manages to get the last laugh.