By: Tyrone Barrozo, Columnist
In short, Todd Phillips’ “Joker” can be best summed up by a quote by Ella Wheeler Wilcox: “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.” With that said, “Joker” was a bleak, nihilistic, psychological thriller and a good time.
I walked to the theater not expecting much. I’m a relatively casual comic book nerd who has supported both Marvel and DC properties in their theatrical endeavors, so I was curious as to what Phillips would bring to the table with this villain origin story. I was expecting elements drawn from Brian Azzarello’s “Joker” graphic novel and Frank Miller’s comic, “The Dark Knight Returns,” given the recent uproar and cries of controversy following after the release of the film with Robert De Niro’s character, I was suspecting those parts of the film to draw from that scene in Miller’s story (fellow comic book fans and highly proficient Googlers know what I’m talking about).
After my viewing, however, there was a satisfying tremble of shock and awe that rumbled through my body. Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck’s abnormal psychology, eroded by an environment plagued by vice and entropy, takes the viewer through an emotional rollercoaster. Simply put, the film is a compelling and haunting character study of a mentally unstable individual that would work just as effectively without the DC property. The movie has more in common with Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” than it does with “Avengers: Infinity War.”
In addition to Phoenix’s hard-carry of a performance, there are many other aspects of the film that are worth applauding. For instance, the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir also shines into the forefront with an ominous drum and sorrowful strings which reflect not only the filthy and deprived aesthetic of a Gotham City but the aforementioned transformation of Fleck into an unstoppable agent of chaos and mayhem.
Lawrence Sher, long-time collaborator with Phillips on “The Hangover” series and cinematographer for “Joker”, also managed to make scenes stand out just a little bit more by visually maintaining the dark and ominous tone of the film so well. Because of that, Phillips and Sher were able to do a lot of things such as transition from visceral terror to gallows humor and then continue to push the plot forward.
On an unrelated note, I also noticed that there were even a couple of snippets in the film that seemed to visually reference Heath Ledger’s Joker and his ride through Gotham City in “The Dark Knight,” which I thought was pretty cool since Phoenix’s Joker costume seems to pay homage to Cesar Romero’s iteration of the clown.
There aren’t too many things to nitpick overall. If you’re a diehard superhero film fan who hasn’t gotten Marvel fatigue over the past couple of years, then the lack of action might be a bit of a letdown for you. Don’t let current detractors of the film fool you into thinking that this is some snuff film directed by Quentin Tarantino because it is not—”Deadpool” is easily more violent than this movie.
There are also certain parts of the film which attempt to visually build upon the idea of the Joker growing more and more delusional as time goes by, but some of the callbacks which reveal these delusions could arguably be redundant and unnecessary. With a story that orbits close to a singular character, there really isn’t much need to cover ground that’s already been walked across, especially if nothing terribly new and/or extraordinary is being found with revisiting the area.
Overall, I thought that this film was great but probably not Oscar-worthy by any means, with the exception of Phoenix’s acting clinic. Now we live in a society where we have a more than competent film based on a DC property outside of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy. So, to reiterate, my thoughts about “Joker” can be summed up by the eight-year-old girl who was sat two seats to the left of me: “That was a good, good movie.”