Sunday, October 13, 2019

No Clowning Around: “Joker” is a Disturbing Psychological Thriller

Joaquin Phoenix gives one of the most impressive performances of his career as a deeply troubled man in Todd Phillips’ controversial hit film “Joker.” Even if this is the fourth iteration of the popular comic book villain we’ve seen on film, Phoenix breaths fresh new live into a character fraught with psychological damage. Arthur Fleck is struggling. He’s a struggling party clown. He’s a struggling stand-up comedian. And he’s a struggling member of society. He lives in an impoverished version of 1980s Gotham City – many, many years before Batman would ever be a thing – and life is taking its toll on the troubled man. When Arthur is attacked on the subway by three men, he kills one of them which sets off a chain of events that plunges Arthur down a dark spiral of despair and mayhem where his alter ego Joker is eventually born.

Todd Phillips, mostly known for directing frat-boy comedies like “Old School” and “The Hangover” films, has turned to the likes of 1970s Scorsese to depict his dark portrait of depression and madness. Joaquin Phoenix is stellar here as are the many supporting players including Robert De Niro as a talk show host who Arthur looks up to, Zazie Beetz as a sympathetic neighbor, and Frances Conroy as Arthur’s equally disturbed mother. Phillips film is stylish and gorgeous with a perfectly rendered late 70s vibe that is a welcome change of scenery for the generally mixed bag of DC films. While this movie has nothing to do with what Warner Brothers has previously given us, it wisely chooses to be its own thing and what that is a gorgeous, disturbing, piece of artsy pop entertainment that crackles with suspense, pathos, and thrills.  GRADE: A-