Thursday, November 7, 2019

Movie Review: "Joker" (2019)

Director: Todd Phillips
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

A mentally unstable man, who has frequent uncontrollable fits of laughter because of a traumatic brain injury, becomes the icon of a political movement when he kills the three wealthy businessmen who assaulted him on the subway.

Joaquin Phoenix laughs loudly on a crowded bus in the movie Joker, directed by Todd Phillips
"Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?" (Image Source)
Let's put a smile on that face! "Joker" is directed by Todd Phillips, who is best known for directing the "Hangover" trilogy. He also helped write the film along with Scott Silver, who has worked on movies like "8 Mile" and "The Fighter." This story is loosely based on the DC comic villain The Joker, who has been previously portrayed by the likes of Cesar Romero (on the 1965-1986 Batman TV show), Jack Nicholson (in Tim Burton's "Batman"), Cameron Monaghan (on TV's "Gotham"), Mark Hamill (in "Batman: The Animated Series," "Batman: The Killing Joke," and many more voiceover performances), Zach Galifianakis ("The Lego Batman Movie"), Jeff Bennett (in 2008's animated series "Batman: The Brave and the Bold"), Troy Baker (in 2013 video game Arkham: Origins), Kevin Michael Richardson (in the 2004 animated series "The Batman"), John Dimaggio (in the 2010 animated film "Batman: Under the Red Hood"), Brent Spiner (in the "Young Justice" animated series), Steve Blum (in Batman: The Video Game), Michael Emerson ("The Dark Knight Returns" 2012 animated film), Heath Ledger (in "The Dark Knight"), and absolutely no one else. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a mentally unstable man who suffered a traumatic brain injury, which causes him to have fits of laughter he cannot control. He works as a clown who holds up signs on the street for clearance sales, and he also entertains children at a local hospital. While working one day, Arthur is accosted by a bunch of teenagers, prompting a fellow employee named Randall (Glenn Fleshler) to give him a gun. While Arthur is on his way home from work one day while dressed in his clown outfit, he has one of his laughing spells on the same subway car where a woman is getting sexually harassed by three businessmen. The men turn their attention to Arthur, beat him senseless, and in retaliation, Arthur shoots them. His actions are condemned by both Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) and the media, but Arthur becomes the symbol of a political movement that hopes the struggling lower class will revolt against the wealthiest 1% of the population that exploits government policies for their own gain.
Marc Maron and Robert De Niro star in 2019's DC film Joker
"There's something special about you, Arthur, I can tell." (Image Source)
"Joker" is the origin story of a villain who has never really had an origin. It pays homage to (read: Todd Phillips tries his best to emulate) Martin Scorsese films like "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy," both of which feature mentally unstable protagonists who become media stars because of the violence they have perpetrated. The grimy, gritty, trash bag-laden version of Gotham presented in this film is very reminiscent of the dingy versions of New York put on display in the previously mentioned Scorsese flicks. This makes sense when you realize Scorsese himself produced this movie and even considered directing it at one point.

We liked "Joker." It wasn't as good as we hoped it would be, but it wasn't as bad as we feared. The best part about this movie is Joaquin Phoenix, who puts on a hell of a performance as Arthur Fleck. Phoenix puts his all into making this character feel real and bringing him to life. The way his body moves, the way he emotes using only a slight eyebrow raise or small frown, it's a masterful performance. We wouldn't be surprised to see him get some awards recognition for his efforts here, and we definitely agree that he deserves them. Also excellent is Zazie Beetz, who doesn't get a lot to do but still absolutely nails her performance.

Don't go into this movie thinking it's going to be a full-on comic book film because it's really anything but. It's more of a "message movie" that may run you through a gamut of emotions, a psychological dramatic crime thriller that just so happens to be about one of Gotham's biggest baddies. The angle that Todd Phillips and Scott Silver take is an intriguing (albeit self-indulgent) one. The story tries to highlight social issues like a flagrant lack of healthcare and inadequate access to prescription drugs in the United States. Part of Arthur's problem is that he's struggling financially, but the government has cut entitlement programs and social services that were put in place to help people in his situation. This leads to civil unrest and an uprising of the poor working class who are being exploited by wealthy people and corporations like Wayne Enterprises that can sway public policy with the right amount of dollars and cents. Arthur Fleck manages to become an inadvertent icon to this political movement against the Wall Street elites and the conservative policies that keep "the 1%" rich and "the 99%" floundering and subservient. Unfortunately, despite having a lot of big ideas to play with, the narrative is a little bit simple. Some of it is effective, and other things that happen a little too conveniently (worst week ever, are we right?!). It's far more style over substance, and frankly, it needed a little more oomph. It wants to be bleak and depressing and hopeless, but it doesn't explore its issues as deeply as it thinks it does or as well as it should.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) sits on the New York City subway in his clown costume in a movie still for "Joker" (2019)
"What kind of clown carries a fucking gun?" (Image Source)
We were never bored by "Joker," but we were also never overly engaged by what was happening beyond Phoenix's performance. Still, we thought this was a solid film from beginning to end, one we didn't dislike in the slightest. We also want to give a special shoutout to Hildur Guðnadóttir and her incredible musical composition for this film. In a fair world, she will get a nomination for it!

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.8/10
RT Rating: 69%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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