Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleschler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham and Marc Maron.
Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver.
Directed by Todd Phillips.
This is unlike any DC “comic book movie” that’s come before. This has taken the skin of the Joker and placed over the aesthetic of a late 1970’s-early 1980’s Martin Scorsese movie. It owes a lot to The King of Comedy, but its main inspiration would be Taxi Driver. It’s fitting that DeNiro shows up here.
The film centers on Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), an obviously disturbed man with mental illness, on seven medications, but facing a cruel 1981 Gotham where the gap between rich and poor has never been more stark. This isn’t an origin story so much as a journey, and the series of unfortunate events that befall him feel like a hindsight explanation of how we’re going to end where we know we’re going to end.
1981 Gotham feels just like the New York we see in Taxi Driver, the New York you could believe would turn into a prison-state when Kurt Russell went to go help someone escape from it, or would have Popeye Doyle beat up suspects.
The cinematography is top-notch, the score is spot-on, and the screenplay takes us down this dark, bleak hole, where we watch a man decide that the only way the world makes sense is if he stops caring about right and wrong.
I can’t praise Joaquin Phoenix’s performance enough. He embodies every inch of the character. He commands the screen the entire time and there’s not one wasted gesture or glance. I would argue in the third act, he becomes the scariest on-screen Joker we’ve ever had.
I can see why this is getting mixed reviews, but some of it is unfair. The “buzz” around it inspiring copycat killers was ridiculous. The political statements it makes are ones that you’d think “woke” critics would agree with. Also, it’s a feel-bad movie. It’s one you respect or admire but it’s not “fun.” Which is why it reminds me of Taxi Driver. It’s unilaterally considered a classic, but it’s not one anyone wants to watch over and over again.
Side note: My wife pointed out some problems with some revelations from Arthur’s childhood, but I can chalk those up to “Gotham in 1950 was really messed up.”