Coming to theatres from director Todd Phillips and Warner Bros. is a dark look at an iconic villain from his beginning to becoming JOKER.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a meek clown who is the target of everyone who sees him as weak. It’s not just the bullies on the street that take aim at him but also the other clowns he works with. Taking care of his mother Penny (Frances Conroy), they live in the downtrodden part of Gotham City.
On his way home in full clown regalia, Arthur comes face to face with more humiliation when he fights back. Unfazed by it, he returns home again to his mother who believes that her previous employer will help their plight.
In the meantime, Arthur works on his comedy act and hopes that one day he will be on Live with Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Practicing his skills he hopes to impress lovely neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz) and invites her to watch his performance. Returning home late, he discovers Penny is ill and there are detectives wanting to talk to him.
While she recovers, Arthur sees a recording of his performance airing on Live with Murray Franklin and finally has his chance to make a comedic impact, but not before he lets people around him know that things are about to change.
Say hello to Joker!
Phoenix as Arthur takes this iconic villain deeper than ever before. His story is complex, dark, and heart breaking to watch. Coming in at 121 minutes, the story slowly makes its way to a climax that is as hauntingly beautiful (there is no other way to describe it) as is his portrayal. The physicality of Arthur is one thing but in those eyes lives everything that is Arthur Fleck. The pain, confusion, delusion and the desire to be something more than most can imagine. That is why the critics have just become mesmerized by what Phoenix has done with the Joker.
Conroy as Penny is a woman fixated on finding a way for them both to struggle less. Conroy has always found roles that are complex and as the mother of Joker she truly has placed herself in an arc in his storyline. Beetz as Sophie lives close to Arthur and he finds her intriguing with a chance to offer a bit of solace from the real world.
De Niro as Murray Franklin dons his caricature of Johnny Carson in bad suits and snide comments yet Arthur and his mother shared nightly television time. His part is pivotal in the evolution of Arthur Fleck into Joker.
Other cast include Shea Whigham as Detective Burke, Bill Camp as Detective Garrity, Glenn Fleshler as Randall, Leigh Gill as Gary, Josh Pais as Hoyt, Rocco Luna as GiGi, Marc Maron as Gene, Sondra James as Dr. Sally, Murphy Guyer as Barry, Douglas Hodge as Alfred and Brett Cullen as Thomas Wayne.
I know it is easy to jump to the comparison between Phoenix’s portrayal of the JOKER and Heath Ledger’s (or Jack Nicholson and Cesar Romero for that matter) take on the iconic character. I will admit to having the same reservations but I’m here to tell you to put those thoughts at rest. THIS is not THAT Joker. Phoenix gives us an deeper and disturbing look at what brought about the growth of Arthur Fleck. I feel there is a melding of these Joker portrayals and they call can co-exist quite happily.
In JOKER, Gotham is a dark place filled with struggling citizens and it could easily be said that it is a statement of what is going on in the world today. The film could be picked apart for a political view about the rich versus the poor and lack of law and the double talk of elections but, I will save that for others who want to look for that. I wanted to invest myself in the character of Arthur Fleck and his story.
Joker wasn’t born Joker, he was born a child who became Arthur Fleck who became the Joker. That is what this film addresses and it is a nightmare in a city full of nightmares. Gotham has given birth to villainy but it’s not only Arthur Fleck. There is Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, Edward Nigma, Dr. Pamela Isley, Harleen Quinzel just to name a few of those who turned to a life of crime.
What Phoenix and Todd have managed to do is tell the story of a future arch enemy making it possible to tell more of those stories. Personally I hope it doesn’t become a habit because there is something about not knowing every little thing about every nemesis of Gotham. At the same time I am curious if Phoenix could take his portrayal of the Joker and take it one step further.
I believe that die-hard fans of the comic will be thrilled because it does take in the dark side and less of a comic side. That doesn’t mean there aren’t chuckles but they are uncomfortable in a way that is hard to describe. Phoenix takes us into Arthur/Joker’s dark place and we stay there the entire time because, to be honest, we can’t look away.
In the end – put on a happy face!