Phoenix’s Joker imparts a violent origin of the Clown Prince of Crime.
26 January 1966 marked the auspicious debut of Cesar Romero’s Clown Prince of crime in the original Batman tv series episode titled, “The Joker is Wild.” The same banner could have been used as a near perfect description of Joaquin Phoenix’s embodiment of the character in Todd (The Hangover) Phillips movie adaptation, simply dubbed “Joker.” But while Romero played the part for plain laughs, Phoenix’s incarnation is equivalent to the merry savagery of Heath Leger and Jack Nicholson.
Set in 1981 Gotham City (The Big Apple naturally substituting), we are graciously introduced to one of the city’s many lower class denizens, Arthur Fleck (Phoenix). He works as a local clown-for-hire for a company appropriately titled Ha-Ha’s. And apparently he’s not limited to just children’s birthday parties or other youthful activities.Because our first encounter is Arthur in full clown regalia swinging a sign for an adult run store.
However, Fleck’s disturbed mentality belies his jovial attitude; he does have problems, and not all of them erratic. While holding down a job, Arthur must deal with the rise in violence and the increasing crime rate, likely proportionate with the rise in unemployment(Fleck is blessed to even have a job); taking care of his ailing mother Penny (Frances Conroy) living in a not so elegant apartment; making periodic visits to a social worker (Sharon Washington) for his medication; and trying to stifle an occasional, uncontrollable laugh that most, if not all people find rather annoying.
Compounding these woes is Arthur’s desire to be a stand up comedian, notwithstanding the laugh, and a potentially dangerous problem referred to in a particular holy book regarding man’s constantly evil imaginations; the incessant negative thoughts he has confessed to his social worker. It doesn’t take long for one to realize that Fleck is a ticking time bomb with a proximity fuse, despite his loving mother’s support, telling him to always put on a happy face.
With a repertoire of magnetic personalities from Freddie Quell in The Master, to Johnny Cash in Walk The Line, Joaquin Phoenix was an ideal choice for Joker. He brings a fresh perspective to Batman’s arch nemesis, and, like Disney’s Maleficent, resolves our curiosity as to how and why Arthur Fleck became what he is. And while he definitely drives the calamitous narrative, he is firmly braced by a talented ensemble.
This certainly includes Game of thrones alum Leigh Gill as Gary, a co-worker at Ha-Ha’s who bears one unforgettable scene; Zazie Beetz;s (Deadpool 2) Sophia Dumond, a single mom with a big heart; the previously mentioned Frances Conroy as Fleck’s mom who maybe hiding something personal; and Brett Cullen as millionaire Thomas Wayne (yes, Bruce’s father) whose life may not be as squeaky clean as one may believe. Arthur’s relationship to this quartet fostered by director Todd and his co-writer Scott Phillips, provides even more facets into his personality. Of all four, Sophia, could be the one who could actually mellow Arthur out – somewhat.
Hollywood veteran/icon Robert DeNiro just naturally stands out as Gotham City’s illustrious tv talk show host, Murray Franklin, whom Fleck practically idolizes. He embraces the role with all the enthusiasm of Jay Leno or Stephen Colbert, and despite displaying a certain acerbic wit at times, Murray has endeared himself to Gotham audiences as transient relief from the town’s pressing urban issues, while simultaneously referring to them in a more thought provoking and enjoyable atmosphere.
At the risk of sounding a bit redundant, it’s certainly no joke that this Joker lives up to it’s R-rating. It’s plenty bloody, brutishly violent, and definitely not for children under 17. Notwithstanding, the pic should garner at least several academy award nominations, especially for Phoenix’s performance.