Monday, October 7, 2019

Joker, 2019 - ★★★★★

Todd Phillips' Joker brings us yet another incarnation of Batman's top adversary following some good performances (Jack Nicholson, Cesar Romero) and one AMAZING performance (Heath Ledger). I was pretty sure I would never see someone reach the heights of Ledger's work in The Dark Knight but 11 years later, the uber-talented Joaquin Phoenix has quickly put himself in the running for best Joker ever.

In a similar vain to what Chris Nolan did with Dark Knight, Todd Phillips crafts his Joker film as a 70's-set dark crime saga that doesn't seem to fit in with the recent superhero genre. The movie seems dirty throughout as we see Arthur Fleck slowly descend into a maniacal killer. Fleck's relationship with his Mom is both caring and flawed at the same time, muddled by a questionable adoption scenario in Fleck's past. While nearly a stand-alone film in DC universe, Joker does touch on elements of a young Batman and there is a clear setup for a follow on film. I just can't believe Phoenix would play this role again, although I'd love to see it happen.

The choices that Phoneix's Joker makes are certainly questionable but Phillips does a great job of letting us inside Fleck's head and understand some of his motivations. The actual killing scenes are brutal and blunt with gunshots ripping through the theater speakers. The scene near the end of the film with Fleck in full Joker dress and makeup as a guest on Murray Franklin's (a game Robert De Niro) talk show is the culmination of pent-up rage. I couldn't take my eyes off of Phoenix in that entire scene from him dancing backstage to his matter-of-fact behavior in the guest chair. It's a riveting performance that totally overshadows the work of legendary De Niro sitting next to him. Speaking of dancing, Phoenix does a weird swaying dance several times in the film and I thought it was a perfect strange addition to an already strange character/actor. His over-the-top cackling laugh that he delivers (along with a card explaining his mental condition to strangers) is powerful and horrible at the same time. Joaquin is just a weird kind of dude and that's what makes him perfect to play this role.

In fairness to Ledger, The Dark Knight earned him the Oscar in a supporting role. Joker is all Joaquin, all the time so it may not be a fair comparison. That being said, I really do feel Phoenix's performance is a notch above Ledger's. He simply does deranged differently and a little better than Heath did. This film is a tour de force showcase of one of the best actors of my generation. I'm not sure if he'll win Best Actor but he should definitely be nominated. Joker is a fantastically entertaining and depressing look at a monster brought to life. This is easily Phillips' best film and I'm curious to see what he does next.

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