U/A: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy
This ambitious attempt to make an iconic comic book character, aka Joker look ‘real,’ is not as successful as Director Todd Phillips may have imagined it to be. Joker is a sort of biopic of the main villain in the Batman series with Joaquin Phoenix striving for a believability that is so stark that it could almost make you squirm in your seats. The same cannot be said about the slow-moving movie engagement that concentrates so much on art direction, production value, CGI, costume, make-up and period aesthetics( 1980s Gotham) that it forgets to write in elevating moments that could serve as alleviating contrast for the unrelentingly frigid descent into hell that the Joker’s life symbolizes. The acutely unemotional scripting fails to drum up the kind of fervor that only a suffusion of drama, emotions, and adrenaline (like in myth driven comic book fantasies) can.
This movie’s decent into darkness begins when a hapless Happy (as his demented mother calls him) or his real name Arthur Fleck (Phoenix), who performs as a joker and hopes to make it big as a stand-up, gets mercilessly beaten up by violent street-side thugs. After a series of victimization, he begins to lose it and it’s rather opportune that one of his friends’ gives him a gun along the same time that he learns from his mother’s letter about his illegitimacy. Fleck is fixated with a talk-show host played by Robert De Niro, secretly likes the black woman( Zazie Beetz) down the hall from him and believes his demented mother when she claims he is the illegitimate son of a super-rich, soon-to-be-mayor, Thomas Wayne( Brett Cullen). But these incidents don’t have enough dramatic force to validate Fleck’s transformation from an introverted performance artist struggling for survival into a voracious killer. The narrative chugs on with its intented curve though. Frequently abused and callously disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness – eventually transforming into the criminal mastermind we all have learnt to respect, as depicted in the Batman comic book and movie series.
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Todd Phillips (of Hangover fame) exposes the psychopathic criminal mastermind through Arthur Fleck’s personal journey into insanity. But his hope( as mentioned in several interviews) that it could explain why people could start a revolution, doesn’t come through. Arthur Fleck is ill-fated, an individual struggling to find release from society’s oppression. Initially one could think of him as a rebel, renegade or vigilante but once the murders become uncontrollable expressions of rage against those who vilify him, it gets more and more difficult to empathise with his loss of control. Phoenix does his best to look human. His depiction of mental illness here appears personal. But even so, and with applaud worthy tech specs, zero opposition to the Joker’s unrestricted murdering spree becomes a millstone around this film that flatters so artistically but eventually deceives.
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