In the vein of Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson, Joaquin Phoenix kills it as the Joker
One of the season’s most talked about movies should be “Joker,” a twisted spin-off of the Batman DC Universe from director Todd Phillips (“The Hangover,” “Old School”).
Many have been left concerned about whether or not the film supports violence, especially since the Colorado movie theater where the 2012 mass shootings occurred refuses to show it. And we do live in the Trump Era, when violence continues to reach a new low, and because of that, a Jason Blum-produced-thriller called “The Hunt” got scrapped from release. It probably wouldn’t have worked out anyways.
It does represents the violence and hatred in this world, but also, it should make Joaquin Phoenix the second actor to be an Oscar nominee after the late Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.” If not Oscars, maybe a Golden Globe nomination like Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s “Batman.”
He kills it as Arthur Fleck, who is led to believe that his uncontrollable laughter is a condition he has. He loves with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy), who previously had a fling with Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) of Wayne Enterprises.
This story takes place in Gotham City, 1981, when everyone has gotten crazy on the streets. And since Thomas Wayne (depicted here as a fascist) is up for Mayor, that means little Bruce Wayne isn’t ready to wear the cape and mask.
Anyway, while Arthur is convinced that Thomas is the father who abandoned him as a child, his goal is to be a stand up comedian. He’s also a party clown, who gets attacked by hooligans, who take the sign he’s suppose to hold for a fading store. After that, he receives a gun from a fellow co-worker, and eventually uses it on his latest attackers, ergo making clowns a symbol of destruction.
A video of him performing at a Night club also ends up in the clutches of TV personality Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, challenging the Jerry Lewis character in his 1982 movie “The King of Comedy”), who insults him to the very point of him going mad. I really like the in-jokes and nostalgia presented here, and Arthur’s fantasies of him being on the show, before the hurtful comments, really clinch it.
And since he’s a party clown, he becomes so attached to the white make-up and green hair that he becomes the Joker. That and he becomes a vigilante, murdering bad people. He’s deranged, and yet, he finds it amusing. After all, he is a clown.
I’m not supporting violence, bare that in mind, and I was checking behind me to make sure everyone was safe. In the theater I attended, they had police officers making sure no Jokers would go berserk. But I still found the movie throughly entertaining. Again, it’s because of the reality presented here.
It takes risks by developing the Clown Prince of Crime as a mentally disturbed street clown, who acknowledges the environment around him. And it allows Phoenix to get into character at the level of Hedger and Nicholson. Obviously, he’s much better than Jared Leto was in “Suicide Squad.” No grillz (yet), rest assured.
There’s also a would-be love story between Arthur and a single mother (Zazie Beetz from “Deadpool 2” and “Atlanta”) that doesn’t last very long, but it has its momentum. I really admire how Todd Phillips directs and co-writes with Scott Silver about one DC villain, and why he would be a psycho.
This is an entertaining thrill ride with laughs and shocks, thanks to Phoenix, De Niro, and Conroy. I’m not sure how the public will take it, given the circumstances, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.