What It Is: A retelling of the origin of the villainous Joker, set in loose, undermined period but with a definite ’80s edge, taking place long before Batman takes up his mission in Gotham. The movie is the first film in WB’s series of DC-based standalone films, placing characters and stories outside of the established cinematic canon and told by individual filmmakers.
What I Thought: I felt, overall, JOKER is a well constructed and deftly told movie, superbly acted and well-paced throughout with a great score. But, for all of its cinematic achievements, thematically the film can be very disturbing at times and a little tone-deaf, especially with the current landscape in the US right now.
When I first heard that Joaquin Phoenix was going to play the role of one of the most notorious comic book villains of all time, I was initially quite skeptical as this didn’t seem like a good fit for him – possibly a little too old, maybe a little too detailed a performer to play what has always been a mysterious cypher of a character. After seeing JOKER however, Phoenix has proven he was the right choice for the role, after all, demonstrating his descent into madness after a few powerful incidents, spread throughout the movie
While most of the film centers around Phoenix as disturbed wannabe comedian Arthur Fleck, the supporting cast of Robert DeNiro as talk show host Murray Franklin, Zazie Beetz as Fleck’s neighbor, and Frances Conroy as his ailing mother were terrific in their limited time on screen. The supporting cast all play a role in Fleck’s transition from a frustrated, put-upon, semi-normal life to one of lunacy and terror.
An absolute highlight, the score by Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir was absolutely terrific throughout and mirrored the themes on screen perfectly. The songs chosen for the movie were mostly classic showtunes by the likes of Sinatra and Astaire, but also had a couple of tracks with a harder rock edge, such as White Room from Cream and Rock and Roll, Pt. 2 both played during significant parts in the movie (the latter of which I thought we’d never hear in a movie, due to Gary Glitter’s problematic past).
While this is not a Batman movie per se, it is a movie set in the city of Gotham and, as such, a few notable landmarks appear in the movie including Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor. However, if you go into this movie remotely expecting a Batman film, you’ll be sadly disappointed as this doesn’t touch on any of the themes from the four-colour pages. However, if you are a fan of ’70s noir cinema and dark, confrontational storytelling, a psychological thriller with aspirations of contemporary commentary, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
My Grade: A. Todd Phillips and Scott Silver‘s script was suspenseful and the movie had solid pacing from the opening scene to the closing credits (no post-credit scene, FYI – it’s really not that kind of film). As I said before, it is disturbing at times and certainly not a movie you’d ever want to take kids to due to the nature of the themes and violence in the movie.