Joker, staring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips was release just a few days ago. So, we gathered some of our best WGN writers (or at least the ones who were sober enough)- sent them to watch it and report back. After hours of screaming matches and incoherent ramblings, we managed to cobble together their reviews. Here are the results.
I hate writing in first person when it comes to movie reviews, in my opinion you’re here to know if a movie is good, not if I liked it. But I remembered an anecdote whilst watching this movie that seemed too relevant to not mention. Years ago, whilst playing one of the Batman Arkham games, a friend of mine turned to me and asked “Why does Batman constantly attack and villain-ise the mentally ill?” This is just one of the many, and difficult, questions that Joker seeks to ask, but deliberately avoids answering.
Joker tells the story of A. Fleck (yes, it’s deliberate) who we watch as his life crumbles around him, from his day job as a party clown to his ill mother, whom he looks after in his spare time in the evenings. Arthur is a man who struggles to catch a break despite his small ambitions. But as his life takes ever darker turns, his ambitions change, and so to does his outlook on his life and the lives of others. Or at least, so we think.
In terms of film-making, Joker is an absolute master class. Its visual and sound design are extremely well thought out. Joker is more of a horror movie than a traditional superhero action affair, or even a traditional thriller. The lighting is often cold and sharp, colours stand out as shocking in a slightly drab and tungsten world. Most importantly though, is the use of focus, focus often shifts between small aspects of the film to keep you overwhelmed or to make you question what it is you are seeing.
To discuss what makes Joker special would be to spoil the impact of the film, both in good and bad ways. Make no mistake, Joker is not an easy watch and talking about it after leaving the cinema is even harder. This is a film of extremely heavy themes and it reflects some of the most talked about and frankly most dangerous topics of our times. If it had to be distilled down to its most basic themes then they would be: Mental illness, class divide, the cult of personality, our current post-fact era of zeitgeist and society punching downwards. If that doesn’t explain how dense and difficult a film Joker is trying to be then who knows what will. Whether those themes are done justice, or not, is an even heavier topic, and will no doubt be hugely influenced by personal perspective and experience.
Joker is an exceptionally clever and difficult film. In some ways it’s very timely and in other ways, hopefully at least, it isn’t. Its beautifully created, extremely well written and stunningly acted*. Everything about it is beautiful and difficult and I can’t think of any other entry in this franchise or even genre that reflects this level of crafts-person-ship. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, it will mean different things to different people and you shouldn’t walk away smiling from it but, unfortunately, that’s life.
*Phoenix is Oscar worthy without a doubt.
Greetings my Movie Geeks!
Joker was released this weekend and judging by the state of the world, it hasn’t brought on the apocalypse. It hasn’t incited people to go on a rampage inspired by a two-hour comic book movie. Instead, it’s made Batman’s arch nemesis scary in a way that wasn’t expected.
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is what makes this movie. From the pain in his face from uncontrollable laughter, to the full physical contortions of his body as he tries to suppress madness. It is a film that has set itself apart from the comic book genre by pre-release comments stating it’s ‘one and done’ to ‘a way to sneak a real movie into the studio system’. But Joker is firmly set within the comic book universe of Detective Comics. It could even be argued that this Joker could be the one true Joker that could feasibly return in future movies.
But the film itself is a horrifying descent into madness as we find Arthur Fleck (A. Fleck) forgotten and ignored in a city that is overpopulated and seemingly overrun with super rats. He needs help, and at the beginning of the movie it looks as though he’s getting it, but due to cuts, it doesn’t last long. He sees how bad the city has become and he seems genuinely upset by it. There were claims when the movie was announced that Joker would mirror or pay homage to Scorsese movies like King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. But Joker goes further and kind of mashes them together, making Arthur Fleck a stand-in for Travis Bickle who fantasises of becoming the King of Comedy.
Phoenix excels in this role, making Fleck a sympathetic character, pushed aside and ignored. He has a clear mental illness, which is later revealed to be an effect of physical abuse. But when he snaps, we see a physical change in both his body language and the symptoms of his illness. Everything subsides, and Fleck falls into the clown persona quite quickly. He sees the effect he is having on the city. He realises that for the first time in his life he is making a change, and from one perspective the change is for the good. He discovers he doesn’t have any remorse, and we can read between each beating that he has just been rolling with the punches. He receives two beatings which mirror each other, but the two beatings have two very different outcomes. Once the truth comes out, we understand that during the beatings he adopts the same position, choosing the flight option rather than fight.
Joker is an outstanding film, from opening scene to closing joke. It is shot beautifully, giving us some uncomfortable scenes. We see everything from Fleck’s perspective and due to this we are bamboozled into seeing his world. It is shot to make us feel we are watching a film from the era it is set in, from the colour palette to the Saul Bass Warner Bros logo at the beginning. Phillips wants us to see Joker as a gritty story that we could see happen in the real world. The initial backlash of this film thought so, but when you come down to it, Joker is another comic book movie.
A comic book movie that has tried something different, but at the same time shown us yet another Batman origin story. I can’t deny I didn’t see this coming, but I suspected as much. It’s a film that needs to stay as a stand-alone film. I wouldn’t want Phoenix’s Joker to turn up elsewhere, because I feel anymore screen time would diminish that character, and yet, I’m torn.
Phillips tries to create an iconic movie like Taxi Driver, but the similarities are there and unfortunately almost hindering it. He’s also trying to push audiences’ buttons by using Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part 2 at a significant point in Joker’s creation. But at the end of the day, and despite being an extremely well made and entertaining movie, it goes back to the Todd Phillips quote:
“I literally described to Joaquin at one point in those three months as like, ‘Look at this as a way to sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film’.”