She always tells me to smile, and put on a happy face.” – Arthur Fleck

Everyone who knows Batman, knows Joker. To many, the most well known villain in comic book history. He’s been portrayed many times on television and in films, even resulting in a posthumous Academy Award for Heath Ledger’s performance in 2009’s The Dark Knight. What if we break the trend of franchises, by stepping away from it and giving a universally known character his standalone film?

Todd Phillips‘ (The Hangover-trilogy) Joker shows us who Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) really is. What/who drove him in becoming ‘Joker’? A complete character study of a mentally ill adult, who still lives with his mother, Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy). Working as a clown to promote goods on the street, or to lift sick children’s spirits at the hospital, his real goal in life is to become a successful comedian. When things don’t exactly work out the way he wants and society mentally abuses him more than once, Arthur snaps at a certain point and realises there’s no turning back.

Joaquin Phoenix in his own vision of a villain so beloved and disturbing as Joker, gave me a bit of a deja-vu feeling. I’ve seen Phoenix play challenging roles before, and only in the third act I actually found him compelling enough as Joker. This partially has something to do with the script. Phillips’ and Scott Silver‘s (The Fighter) pretentious writing isn’t going deep enough to make us feel anything for the character. It’s mostly sloppy and repetitive, with one too many subplots and side characters. One of those supporting characters is Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz – ‘Deadpool 2‘), one of Arthur’s neighbours who seems to connect with him in a certain way. But nothing is what it seems. It felt like her character was written into the story to underline a certain wrinkle in Arthur’s mind, which cheapened the film a bit and felt unnecessary. Most of the supporting cast was great with the little amount of dialogue provided, but was mostly wasted. This is a one man show after all.

Watching this in 70mm, really worked in favour of the ’70s-vibe cinematographer Lawrence Sher (Godzilla II) was going for. The production and costume design was simple but effective, to help achieve that aesthetic. Hildur Guðnadóttir‘s grandiose (Chernobyl) score drums out all the non-existent applause of Arthur’s audience. Despite some major flaws, Joker had me glued to the screen from the moment his bone chilling maniacal laughter filled the room, until the end credits rolled over that same echoing tittering. Why so serious?

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review – ‘Joker’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas, Sydney, Oct. 3, 2019. CBA-Rating: MA15. Running time: 121 min.

PRODUCTION: (Canada – USA) A Warner Bros. release in association with BRON Creative, Village Roadshow Pictures of a Creative Wealth Media Finance, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Joint Effort production. Producers: Bradley Cooper, Todd Philips, Emma Tillinger Koskoff. Co-producer: David Webb. Executive Producers: Richard Baratta, Bruce Berman, Jason Cloth, Joseph Garner, Aaron L. Gilbert, Walter Hamada, Michael E. Uslan.

CREW: Director: Todd Philips. Screenplay: Todd Philips, Scott Silver. Camera (color, widescreen): Lawrence Sher. Editors: Jeff Groth. Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir.

WITH: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Wigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill.

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