FILM REVIEW | Joker is a bleak, bold yet beautiful origin story for the ages says Lewis Pearce

After a hugely successful film festival run that included rave reviews and a Golden Lion win at Venice Film Festival (their equivalent to Best Picture) Todd Phillips’ hotly anticipated Joker has divided critics since it has moved into general release. Some have hailed it a masterpiece, others a major disappointment, with many torn on the movie’s depiction of a mentally ill man who ends up turning to violence. But I for one, absolutely loved this movie. 

Anchored by a career-best turn from Joaquin Phoenix, Joker is an unsettling yet stylish character-driven picture which will keep you guessing at every turn. I am a huge fan of films which are ambiguous, leaving you the viewer to make your own judgement on certain outcomes, and Joker is exactly that. Nothing here comes easy, the film toying with what you think you know, and I really liked that aspect of the movie. 

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is an aspiring stand-up comedian living in Gotham City. Fleck suffers from numerous mental problems, one of which causes him to laugh uncontrollably as a release of emotion, which precipitates him unravelling into such a pit of despair that social anarchy and crime lead him to start a new identity…The Joker.

Despite the well-known popularity of the Joker character, this film is not going to be for everyone. It will be too weird for some, too violent for others, some will simply find it uncomfortable. Yet I was impressed with the direction the film took and was totally invested in Arthur’s journey, and a lot of that is down to an Oscar worthy performance from Joaquin Phoenix. 

Arthur is basically in every scene, so there was a lot of pressure on Joaquin to deliver, but with his serious weight-loss and his mastering of a unique yet chilling laugh, Phoenix gives it everything he’s got and simply blew me away with his dedication to the role. It almost feels like a wasted opportunity that we’re not going to see Phoenix’s Joker in a Batman movie, but at the same time there was simply no other actor on the planet that could’ve portrayed Phillip’s vision of this standalone picture quite like him.

Writer-Director Todd Phillips has really surprised me here. The man most notably known for directing The Hangover trilogy has teamed up with co-writer Scott Silver (8 Mile, The Fighter) and they have not only given everyone’s favourite villain a fantastic origin story, but a fully realised narrative to the man under the make-up. Phillips does wonders behind the camera too, with gorgeous framework which really compliment the square ratio image (1:37:1) he chose to go with. This was really refreshing to see; especially as comic book related movies always take a widescreen approach.

We sadly don’t get much time with many other characters beyond Arthur’s mother Penny (Played by Frances Conroy) and I would’ve liked more time to develop his neighbour Sophie (Deadpool 2’s Zazie Beetz) but that sub-plot makes more sense as the story continues. However, I was extremely impressed with Robert De Niro as talk-show host Murray Franklin and feel it’s his best performance in years. With the film’s clear inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, to see De Niro here is a nice touch. 

It can be strange or slow at times, but Joker is the real deal and concludes with an insane final act, ending the film on a real high. Heath Ledger remains the greatest interpretation of the Joker we’ve seen to date, and his high benchmark seemedunreachable, but Phoenix comes mightily close. It’s my favourite performance of 2019 so far. 

Verdict: With brilliance from Phillips behind the camera and Phoenix in-front, Joker is an expertly done character study of DC’s most iconic villain. A monster of a movie which is not to be missed.

Best Moment: Arthur’s friends Randall and Gary check on him at his apartment

Rating: 8.5/10