Dangerous. Immoral. Nasty. Violent. Magnificent. Wonderful. Brilliant. Best of the year. It’s been a while since we’ve had something as divisive and distinct as Todd Phillips‘ Joker on the scene but after weeks of anticipation and acclaim along the festival circuit thus far (yep, this is a comic-book movie which premiered at the Venice Film Festival), its release is now firmly upon us. Whatever it’s virtues, its issues and its originality lead you to believe one thing is for sure above all else: no matter how brilliant the interpretation, the Clown Price on Gotham just ain’t the same with his best bud Batman.
It’s still such a shock (and, in many ways, cause for applause) that a big studio like Warner Bros has allowed one of its biggest assets to be contorted in such a way that is far removed from any incarnation of the characters thus far on-screen and allowed Phillips, co-writer Scott Silver (The Fighter) and Joaquin Phoenix to push the envelope so far that it goes beyond what you could ever imagine. Heck, we’d probably never see any version of Batman like this, nor any of the anyone else from the vast rogues gallery but in the right environment – in this case, a late-70’s, Scorsese-esque,even exploitation-infused physiological drama about someone essentially losing their mind because of societal and economic pressures – you can go to some dark places, and boy does this go down the rabbit hole.
It is a dark, grotesque film in many ways and, rightly or wrongly, will be held under a huge microscope by both sides of the fence, not least because of its provocation and lust for violence but it doing so it paints a harrowing, beautiful portrayal of the world gone mad and the man who went mad in it. But is the actions of Arthur Fleck really going to incite as much as entertain? Probably (hopefully) not but that doesn’t make some of its choices right and it’s morality is massively questionable and it’s blasé feelings towards it aren’t ok. You can see why so many vilified it, and rightly so for many reasons: art versus entertainment hasn’t been been told on quite this scale and with this much verocity, at least in recent years whilst the world around us has been imploding.
And yet, despite its harrowing subject matter and grotesque undertones, Joker a beautiful, tremendously made film. Shot by Lawrence Sher, scored by Hildur Gudnadottir and designed by Mark Friedberg, it’s an absolutely immaculate recreation of the late 70’s/early 80’s movies it both pays homage too and takes its lead from, with every shot looking as beautiful and precise as anything you’d wish to see. And then there’s Phoenix: stones lighter (think, somewhat ironically, “Batman” Christian Bale in The Machinist), it’s a far cry from some of his previous works but he reveals in being let off the leash to fully immerse himself in the role and, while it isn’t quite on Heath Ledger’s level, it’s a different beast and in his hands, it’s pretty miraculously performed.
There will be so much more than we can smartly construct here about Joker – and it will continue should the money and awards come rolling in – but never has a movie quite left this writer so conflicted. On one hand, it’s an experiment in pushing the envelope of what a comic-book movie can do when the confines are stretched and contorted, as well as a look at the human condition in a world run mad by mad people. And yet, for all it’s brilliance, it’s nasty, despicable lust for the nasty threatens to derail it and, in many places, without a Dark Knight to even the scales in many ways, it becomes mightily uncomfortable viewing.
Scott J.Davis | [rating=3]
Crime, Thriller, Drama | USA, 2019 | 15 | 4th October 2019 (UK) | Warner Bros Pictures | Dir.Todd Phillips | Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Zazie Beetz, Shea Whigham,