“Joker” was directed by Todd Phillips who also co-wrote the film alongside Scott Silver. Phillips also directed a slew of comedies including “Starsky & Hutch”, “Old School” & “The Hangover” trilogy. The film based on the iconic DC comic super villain & stars Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Marc Maron & Robert De Niro. Phillips & Silver have that the film isn’t based on any one comic book or graphic novel however, the film has a lot of elements from the 1988 novel “Batman: The Killing Joke” as well as other films.
Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is a social outcast living in the wrong side of Gotham City working odd jobs to support his sick mother (Conroy). The City is slowly dissolving into chaos after funding is cut for City & Social services which is the only thread that Arthur has to hold on to which keeps him on the brink of sanity & madness. Despite meeting a new neighbor (Beetz) and the charismatic late night talk show host (De Niro), Arthur is still seen a awkward weirdo. Everything comes to a head after one bad day in which Arthur realizes he’s entire life has become a web of lies. Slowly, Arthur begins his downward spiral in to utter freakin’ madness. And as Fleck’s quote goes, “I used to think my life was a tragedy, now I realize it’s a comedy”, a new class of criminal has been born.
First off, Joaquin Phoenix gives arguably his best performance of his entire career. His really nails the character and brings something to new to the story. While Nicholson, Ledger even Leto and Hamill all bought something unique to this particular character, Phoenix did the same thing while still a completely different version of the Joker. While Todd Phillips has stated this film isn’t based on any specific comic or graphic novel, it does have many call backs to not just Alan Moore’s novel but also other films such as Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and Mary Harron’s “American Psycho”. Ironically, Robert De Niro starred in Taxi Driver and is here in this film and then American Psycho starred Christian Bale who also played Batman / Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. As it goes, no matter plays the Clown Prince of Crime, there will always be comparisons to those more successful or more liked. While Phoenix’s portrayal is very good, it doesn’t compare to Ledger’s or even Nicholson’s due to the simple the fact that “Joker” is based an villain origin story rather than a Batman storyline. That doesn’t take anything away from the film as whole, it just gives more of focus on the villain without a hero. This film has been criticized for its subject matter which in my opinion really isn’t fair. If people actually watched the film from a storytelling stand point they would understand. This is isn’t a movie about senseless violence nor does it encourage it but this is should be a warning to those suffering from a mental disease. Basically, this is one man’s psychological downfall in to utter fucking madness.
Overall, Phillips’ direction and writing combined with Phoenix’s performance made for a very compelling, great film. Heath Ledger’s performance was great and earn him an Oscar, so I don’t see why Phoenix’s couldn’t do the same thing. While the subject matter is controversial but the film should be seen as cautionary tale for mental illness rather just a ultra violent film.