HomeSandpiper Selects‘Joker’ lacks in plot, makes up with excellent lead performance

‘Joker’ lacks in plot, makes up with excellent lead performance

BY MILES PREKOSKI

As a result of the overhype and concern-trolling commentary regarding the nihilistic approach from writers of “Joker,” the general public walked into theaters expecting a genius and diabolical character study of one of the world’s worst villains. Despite not meeting unfairly high expectations churning long before its release date, director Todd Phillips manages to shy away from his penchant for juvenile comedies to channel his inner Martin Scorsese in one ofthe better superhero/villain movies of the year.

Set in 1981, “Joker” takes the tonal atmosphere of the Batman universe to a whole new level, since the movie is so much more grim, dark and shallow than previous movies from DC Comics. Unlike the protagonists in most superhero movies defined by capes and crusading, this Joker rendition focuses on the human condition and the darkness that can eventually turn someone into a villain. Producers Bradley Cooper and Emma Tillinger aid in depicting a Gotham City that constantly evokes the same grime, social apathy and garbage that New York was known for at its worst times.

Played by Joaquin Phoenix, this iteration of the Joker epitomizes the exact self-pity and despair that Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver were aiming for.According to interviews about the production of the film, the two directors had intended the role to fall into Phoenix’s hands long before casting, and even wrote the script with a picture of the actor right above the laptop. As a result, the famous nemesis of Batman isn’t just seen as a diabolical villain, he’s depicted as a heartbreaking mistake that could have been prevented, a misfit navigating through a bleak world.

Phoenix nails the most crucial aspects of Arthur Fleck, the aspiring stand-up comedian who can’t seem to make it big. The maniacal laugh, the grimace, even the dancing fits in with Fleck/Joker’s reputation. However, at times it feels that the movie is less of an original character study than a funhouse of references, images and nods to previous themes we’ve all seen before. Todd Phillips tips his cap to early influences like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull” and “The King of Comedy” several times throughout the film, and even notes that he wanted the movie to closely parallel that of “Taxi Driver.”

Admittedly, the movie attempts to show modernity and human nature, but it’s not much of an insightful one. Even though the acting, score and cinematography are enough to win “Joker” a few awards, one can’t help but think that the movie is somewhat of a “clown-sad-turned-clown-mad” story. The plot is somewhat predictable, and a strong performance from Zazie Beets as Arthur Fleck’s neighbor deserved more screen time. But does that make “Joker” a bad film? Nope.

If nothing else, this movie serves as a perfect canvas for Joaquin Phoenix, who goes the distance to put on the first Oscar-worthy performance in a superhero/villain movie since Heath Ledger played the same role more than a decade ago. It’s a convincing origin story with an even more convincing anti-hero at its center.

7/10

Courtesy of WARNER BROS MEDIA
“Joker” broke box office records for R-rated movies in October, earning $93.5 million over opening weekend in the U.S. and grossing $234 million worldwide in the past month.

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