Joaquin Phoenix delivers the performance of a lifetime as the man who becomes one of the greatest comic book villains in this very gripping and realistic origin story.
Arthur Fleck is a man who has been diagnosed with a condition that forces him to start laughing uncontrollably. Working as a clown for hire for various events, Arthur finds himself constantly bullied and ignored. The only one he can rely on is his mother, Penny, who used to work for Thomas Wayne as a cleaning lady before Arthur was born. When one of Arthur’s co-workers offers him a gun for protection, Arthur is skeptical at first, but soon finds himself slowly on the verge of a breakdown when he’s fired for bringing the gun to a children’s hospital he was working in.
One night, when Arthur is abused by a trio of Wall Street guys, Arthur finally had enough and shoots all three men killing them. Arthur’s lifelong dream is to become a stand-up comedian, but his first major show doesn’t go so well. In fact, when talk show host Murray Franklin puts Arthur on blast and makes fun of him after video of his performance is seen, this, along with a major revelation, becomes Arthur’s breaking point. Deciding to take responsibility for the trio of murders and combined with his obsession with clowns, Arthur begins a transition into the crime figure known as the Joker.
When it was announced that the director of The Hangover trilogy would be directing a “biopic” of the Clown Prince of Crime, it was met with a bit of skepticism. However, Todd Phillips has done exactly what he had promised. He intended to make a realistic, gritty crime drama about the genesis of his iconic Batman villain and not only did he make good on his promise, but he made this one of the grittiest films seen in recent years with its depiction of mental illness and violence, all driven by one Joaquin Phoenix.
Phoenix has delved some amazing performances as of late, but this is by far one of his greatest roles to date. As the already unhinged Arthur Fleck, we see him suffering from a medical condition that causes him to uncontrollably laugh, even when he is sad. It is clear that we are dealing with an unhinged man who has been unbelievably abused and it is clear from the opening scene where he is doing his job only to get robbed and beaten up that this is not the first rodeo for this character. Phoenix not only shows this unhinged character but a bit of a soft side when it comes to a budding relationship with single mom Sophie, played by Deadpool 2’s Zazie Beetz.
Robert De Niro makes the most of his screen time as talk show host Murray Franklin, who starts out appreciating Arthur for his efforts to being the man of the house, but soon becomes one of the triggers for Arthur’s transformation when he ridicules him on air when his video of his stand up appears. Frances Conroy’s Penny, who Arthur cares for, seems to have some of the same qualities as our protagonist because they both suffer from mental illness as she is accused of being delusional, especially when a major wrench is thrown in the system that could lead to a potential theory involving Joker and a certain hero.
Brett Cullen also has a limited role as Thomas Wayne, who intends to run for Mayor of Gotham City due to its increase in crime. The film does feature an appearance of a young Bruce Wayne, who meets Arthur at Wayne Manor and he is played by Dante Pereira-Olson, who at first feels uneasy until Arthur does a few magic tricks to put Bruce’s mind at ease. Little does Bruce know what will come in store for him that will ultimately lead to the one of the greatest ongoing comic book rivalries today.
Joker takes the iconic comic book villain and not only gives him an origin story, but the tone of the film is one of the best that could be done with the character, a gritty realistic look in the vein of greats like Schrader and Scorsese, driven by the very graceful and unhinged Joaquin Phoenix, who is perfect in the role.
WFG RATING: A+
A Warner Bros. Pictures production in association with DC Comics. Director: Todd Phillips. Producers: Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff. Writers: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver; based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. Cinematography: Lawrence Sher. Editing: Jeff Groth.
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fischer, Leigh Gill, Josh Pais, Rocco Luna, Marc Maron, Dante Pereira-Olson, Sondra James.