Directed by: #ToddPhillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, #ScottSilver
Originally slated as a Martin Scorsese/Leonardo Di Caprio collaboration, Joker perhaps lost some of its pre-production hype after the announcement that, instead, Todd Phillips of The Hangover and Road Trip would pair with Joaquin Phoenix.
Nonetheless, the excitement surrounding this film following it’s standing ovation at the 76th Venice International Film Festival was very apparent.
They’ve got it half right.
Phoenix is exceptional in every aspect of his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, a delusional and impoverished clown-for-hire with an uncontrollable laughing condition who descends into the chaos that is the legend of his character.
Joker is undoubtedly a one-man show with an integral reliance on Phoenix being the right lead. He delivers a career high that only his portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line could equal.
Fleck’s vulnerability, mental illness and pathological laughter is handled with increasing intelligence throughout and Joker is a well-versed character study of how the human mind can decline into mania without the semblance of a well-managed support network. The violence is impactful and harrowing, though Phoenix navigates this with an uneasy balance of defencelessness and power. Never has such dorky dancing or ill-graced running seemed so right.
Whilst it’s hard to fault Phoenix, the same can not be said for the overall direction. The tone surrounding darker scenes is confused between comedy and terror meaning the plot provides a less convincing aspect to Fleck’s deterioration. Joker never quite finds the right angle of the story that it is trying to tell, perhaps weakening itself by a wavering association to DC and Batman. It may serve the film to either fully depart from (or possibly further embrace) this, rather than sitting somewhere in the unproductive middle.
The supporting cast is strong with the likes of Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz and Frances Conroy, all of whom seem to bounce off of Phoenix in just the right ways, and the talk-show finale is a true De Niro/Phoenix acting masterclass.
Many will struggle to push The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s Joker from their mind when watching the film – it is only natural to compare different versions of the same character. And whilst both portrayals are undeniably Academy Award consideration worthy, Joker is inevitably let down by never quite finding it’s rhythm on a confused path of the untold and the legend.