It was made very clear before Joker was even released that Todd Phillips’ interpretation of The Clown Prince of Crime was a stand-alone totally unique story that held no ties to anything at all in print or on screen. My initial reaction was why should we care then? There is enough quality film and tv to keep us busy so why bother watching something that doesn’t matter to the bigger picture? But then maybe that is the point – like Arthur Fleck everything should matter; everything should have value – a message Phillip delivers through this movie as he unapologetically holds up a mirror to society that is at war with itself in these divided modern times.
So what was the film like then? Well lets get to the point shall we? Joaquin Phoenix’s role as Arthur Fleck is more than worthy of all the praise it is getting. Personally I would of liked to have seen a little bit more of his life before the film as I feel it would have aided the later juxtaposition but as far as taking and developing a character in front of our eyes, Phoenix delivers. As Arthur’s downtrodden life unfolds before us we find him living with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy), and working as a clown but things are soon to change for Arthur and what starts as a bright Gotham City darkens along with him.
The plot is an interesting one but should we humanise Joker – a character that has murdered, raped, killed and tortured his way across the DC Universe? But then is this the DC Universe? (which actually has three Jokers). Should we be cheering Arthur on? That point I feel will divide the audience as much as Gotham City is in this movie. Phillip’s though raises this question constantly and leaves you questioning it in your own head.
One big waste of time in this movie was Arthur’s relationship with his neighbour Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz). Whilst Zazie made the most of what she was given it felt forced in and the later revelations could be seen coming from a hundreds miles away. A wasted opportunity that could of really been exploited to show just how twisted Arthur had become later in the movie. Sure it would have been uncomfortable viewing but it would have shown just how sick Joker is. It seemed though, nobody had the guts to go there. Instead most of Joker’s psycho behaviour we can almost justify. It needed to be a lot darker.
Verdict: 7.5/10 Phillips and Phoenix have combined to produce a stark portrait of what society can do to someone who is stuck on its wrong side. It’s message about the world today is very clear. Fleck’s downfall into depravity is excellently documented but I walked away feeling that I just saw a great movie about a character who just happened to be called Joker. Would it have been a better movie if they just ignore Joker as a character and just had Arthur Fleck’s downfall? Then again did any of it really happen? It is told from Arthur’s perspective after all.
P.S. I hope Bob Monkhouse’s estate get a few quid for the jokes they stole.