Review by Gilberto Campa
Ever since the original conception of the character in the 1940’s, The Joker has been a household name and the ultimate representation of villainy in the pages of DC Comics. As print media started to expand into television and film, so did the interpretation of that character which has only grown to newer heights after each go around of The Joker. As a massive fan of Batman and his charismatic rouges gallery I thought that after seeing the masterpiece that is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight back in 2008 (and countless times after during the last 11 years) that Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker would be the end all be all (His win for Best Supporting Actor proves that).
That was until acclaimed director Todd Phillips who is mostly known for his comedies and dramas crafted this story as a surprise to many people, since they were not expecting it from him. After watching the film I still don’t really know the exact reason that he decided to create this project, but I am not mad that he did. When it comes to The Joker or any other comic book character that is adapted on screen it is difficult to completely please the diehard fan base. With all of the controversy and the hype around the film, the one thing that I was worried about was how the story was going to go. I did not want another adaptation of The Killing Joke, The Man Who Laughs, Death in the Family, or any other classic Joker story. I was looking forward to seeing something original, but also allude to classic moments from the character that is a nod to the source material (fan service). Instead the movie felt more like a Martin Scorsese character piece mixed with a little bit of comic book craziness which I was very satisfied with. It takes the rules of other CBM’s and flips the script and creates something groundbreaking that is not trying to be like anything that came before it.
When you look at the other actors that have had the opportunity to portray the clown prince of crime in the past (yes, even Jared Leto) they all brought something unique and made the role there own thing, whether it was perceived well or not. Joaquin Phoenix who is one of the top actors in the industry working today has already delivered some incredibly complex and raw performances in the last twenty years (The Master, Gladiator, Her, etc.), but his turn as Arthur Fleck is nothing short of spectacular.
Yes, there are parts of the movie that are difficult to watch when you see just how terrible Arthur’s life is, but the way that Phoenix captivates and commands the screen with every laugh, cry and look keep you invested. I would almost go on to say that I was sympathetic for Arthur up until a certain part of the film, but his turn as the joker needs to be experienced by everyone. With a budget of 65 million it’s hard to see where most of it goes to, but after watching the movie the absolutely incredible set design of a dirty, bleak, and hopeless Gotham City (set in the 1970’s) shows where it went. There are sequences particularly in the beginning that set the stage so to speak for where the mind set of most of Gotham is, and just how miserable everyone’s lives are (so much garbage).
There are also some very well crafted twists that make you think differently about everything that is going on with Arthur as his life begins to slowly crash piece by piece. I wouldn’t call the movie a slow burn but it builds into a wonderful, ridiculous and downright shocking finale that is worth the time spent. I will not take the time to mention anything about the controversy surrounding the film as this should be looked at as art which it is. I don’t think this movie glorifies any particular behavior, and it is not as violent as you think it might be. The film is a complex and compelling, post modern re telling of the origin of The Joker and his impact to the city of Gotham. All spearheaded by Joaquin Phoenix (I don’t believe that anyone else could have done this role justice the way he did). Go and experience what I believe to be one of the greatest performances that will be talked about for years to come.