Joker: The BRWC Review. Evocative, dark, twisted and utterly mesmerising, that is what Todd Phillips has done with Joker. When the announcement first came in 2017 that we were getting a Joker origin story, I had no idea what to expect. The seemingly constant failure of the DCEU had continued with the release of Justice League, after only briefly being salvaged by Wonder Woman, and snarky laughter and insults met everything attached to the brand.
Yet here was something Warner Brothers told us was going to be completely separate, with no CGI upper lips and, most importantly and interestingly, no Caped Crusader. Soon Joaquin Phoenix was attached, and all we knew was that he would be The Joker going around Gotham with no one capable of stopping him.
Now we know what that’s like and the best way to describe it is a punch in the face quickly followed by an ice bath. This Joker origin story plays very much like the clown prince of crime himself is giving us a list of excuses for his actions, everything is from his perspective, and it’s crucial to understand that. The world Phillips puts us in is a cruel one, a distressingly cruel one that, had the man introduced to us as Arthur Fleck not become The Joker, would generate empathy from audiences for our main character.
However, we are only seeing what our demented antagonist is allowing us to see, and we can’t trust him, so we are left to our own devices, subject to only disturbing behaviour from disturbing people.
Our leader through this world is the relentless Joaquin Phoenix, who gives what is very possibly the finest performance of his career. He summons the feeling that he was born to play this role and brings back all the mental chaos that the character lacked in Suicide Squad. The writers (Todd Phillips and Scott Silver) placed all their cards in the Joker character with the film relying on him in every scene, and phoenix delivers to an incredibly high standard. Robert De Niro is also excellent as funny man talk show host Murray Franklin, who serves almost as a reminder that we have been forced to follow The Joker down a path no one would ever actually tread. In other words, he reiterates that the world isn’t all that bad, at least compared to how Arthur sees it.
The architect behind the entire film, Todd Phillips, has plain and simple never directed a better movie. The Hangover and War Dogs don’t even come close; this is work from an entirely different filmmaker and of a calibre, I’ll admit, I didn’t believe him capable of. I was so foolishly wrong, and I’m so happy to write that. His direction is gobsmacking as he paints his depiction of a treacherous descent into insanity.
In working with cinematographer Lawrence Sher, they have managed to make something so captivating that even when the images make you want to look away, you never will. From his eerie dancing to his harrowing laughter, they capture The Joker in such a way that it’s entirely unforgettable and will make this depiction of the famous character one of the most impactful ever.
There are parallels to the real world, ones that are quite unsettling. At times it’s unclear if the film was trying to acknowledge these or not. They may be a minority, but there are people out there who agree with the psychopathic ramblings of the Joker, and every so often they mimic his style of deranged violence.
I wholeheartedly believe Joker is a film that condemns these people and acknowledges their legitimate threat to the world as we know it. For some, the story will come on a little strong because the world in the film takes the real-life problems and turns them up to 11. The violence is unrelenting as a result, and that is where the debate of the films potential to incite real crimes arises, I hope it doesn’t, but I can’t say for sure that it won’t. We aren’t at the stage where criminal members of an audience should be dictating how to make a film though, that is something I know for sure. So even if you are against the narrative, Joker had an unequivocal right to be made, and as of the time of writing, I’m sure happy it did.
The score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is bone-chilling and gut-wrenching. 2019 has been a particularly good year for film scores, and this one further extends the ever-growing terrific library of music. The editing is also first-rate as it never lets you fully settle from the insane acts before the next one occurs. In the grand scheme of things, the violence is quite sparse, coming in bursts rather than smothering the whole experience, so not being able to settle is a sign of a director and editor that has you well and truly on a hook.
I could go through the other aspects of the movie and sing my praises, but I mean it when I say that in every category this is one of the year’s best films and it will make a significant impact this awards season.
Joker is a disturbing look through the eyes of a mad man who blames the world for his insanity, one told via career-best work from Todd Phillips and the performance of a lifetime by Joaquin Phoenix.
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