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‘Joker’ Review: An Intense And Mesmerizing Ride

Joker - Joaquin Phoenix
JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s tragedy “JOKER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. CR: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

Joker is out in cinemas this Friday and I was lucky enough to attend a special screening of the film. That is what today is all about. I have a lot on my mind and there’s a lot to discuss.

Now, Joker isn’t your typical superhero film. Firstly, there are no superheroes in this film and secondly, it deviates pretty much from all that we know about The Joker. It’s more of a film that utilizes the characters we know to tell an entirely new story. That may scare some comic book fans, but as a comic book fan myself I’d like to assure you that it does work. What Todd Phillips and his team have created is truly special.

The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais and Shea Whigham.

Joker follows Arthur Fleck who seeks to be seen. In the dirty and crime-ridden streets of Gotham, Arthur struggles to fit in but always tries to do what he can with a smile on his face. As the walls begin to close in and Arthur is repeatedly knocked down, something changes. While Gotham’s citizens continue to fight among themselves and among the people in charge, they remain oblivious to the threat that is approaching. The Joker is ready to take the centre stage.

Where to start with this film.

As reassurance, a lot of publicity talked about the film being incredibly violent. After watching, I believe there are more violent films. In fact, after reading some of the reports I went in expecting quite a brutal and disturbing film. Instead, I got a completely character driven film that focuses entirely on telling Arthur’s story rather than showcasing violence and action as a way to elicit a response. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of violence or even moments that cause discomfort. But this film does not operate in a way that intentionally causes extreme discomfort.

What I found so fascinating about Joker was that I thought I knew what I was getting into. I thought I had a general idea of what was going to happen. It was simple. Arthur Fleck would have a bad day and turn to crime. Wrong. What this film does so well is display the deterioration of Arthur Fleck. He is already a troubled individual riddled with anxieties and mental illness but he has goals and he has a dream. Joker strips Arthur down and we bare witness to an incredibly rapid deterioration that isn’t just caused by one bad day but a series of events- being teased and mocked is just one part of Arthur’s ongoing torment. Considering how much advertisement has been done for the film, there are so many brilliant surprises in store, obviously I won’t discuss them but the trailers only give you a mere peak.

As a comic book adaptation this film truly stands out. Not only does it have an incredibly thought out narrative but it is also visually beautiful. Despite the film having pretty much no special effects, it just looks fantastic. The cinematography is brilliant, you lose yourself in the 70’s aesthetic and the Joker’s look is just amazing. It is a stunning piece of work, right down to the details in each scene to the framing of Joaquin Phoenix.

“Put on a happy face”
Joker - Joaquin Phoenix
JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s tragedy “JOKER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. CR: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

You can’t discuss Joker without highlighting the star of the film. To put it simply, Joaquin is mesmerizing and he easily delivers one of the best performances this year and, arguably, in any superhero adaptation. His performance is chilling and captivating. What makes his performance so interesting is that you see how Arthur changes. You essentially go on a ride with Arthur as he struggles through life and you see the consequences, not just within the story itself but the toll it takes on Arthur. You can see and hear those mannerisms change and it is such an intriguing progression that is executed flawlessly by Phoenix’s embodiment. It’s a risky portrayal of the Joker that moves away from comic book lore but I am so glad it did. It’s refreshing, daring, and a brilliant example of the talent and dedication possessed by Phoenix.

One concern that has been flagged up many times is the portrayal of mental health. Honestly, I don’t think it was problematic in anyway. While there are negative implications involved, the film gravitates more towards isolation and manipulation. What this film didn’t do was use mental health as an excuse. Instead, we get a look at how the system handles mental health and how society envisions mental health. This wasn’t a warning that suggested that mentally ill people could become the Joker. It felt more like a reflection of how we as a society treat mental health. Despite taking place in the 70’s, it feels very relevant to this day and age.

If you’ve read some of my reviews in the past you’ll know that I care quite a lot about film soundtracks, particularly orchestral tracks. While film scores are becoming increasingly more acknowledged, I think it is pivotal to recognize the soundtrack as they help evoke certain emotions. Now, I didn’t expect much from the soundtrack since the film focused a lot more on the characters. However, Hildur Guðnadóttir delivers one of the best scores I have heard in a long time. It’s simple but effective. The overwhelming feeling that runs down your spine when the score plays just adds to the overall intensity. It’s genius.

“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”
Joker - Joaquin Phoenix
JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Arthur Fleck in Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and BRON Creative’s tragedy “JOKER,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. CR: Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

I don’t think anyone should miss out on seeing Joker. It’s a very unique film that tries something completely different and it knocked it out of the park for me. I sat down and it was the quickest 2 hours of my life, I was glued to the screen from the very start. I just couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Sure it was hard to watch at times but it felt unpredictable. I wasn’t quite sure where Arthur was going to go next. But I will say, as soon as Arthur puts the make-up on, the film enters an entirely new level. Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur is fantastic, but when he transforms into Joker… that is something special.

Be sure to check it out in theaters this Friday. You can also read more on Joker right here.

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