The Reel Review
Joaquin Phoenix stars in this profoundly dark, disturbing origin story about the arch nemesis of the comic book hero Batman. It is told from the perspective of the villain – a deeply lonely, clown-for-hire and aspiring stand-up comedian who, already severely emotionally damaged by a traumatic childhood, turns to violence after being marginalized and abandoned by society.
Co-writer/director Todd Phillips (The Hangover, War Dogs) has assembled a well-crafted tale that cleverly ties headier psychological issues into the Batman-Joker saga, while paying homage to a couple of equally disturbing films of the late ’70s and 80s – Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Robert De Niro, as a popular late night TV talk show host, ironically plays the antithesis of his roles in those two prior films. A shockingly thin Phoenix is ghoulishly mesmerizing as he channels his character’s uncontrollable maniacal laughter. His many uncomfortably extreme close-ups and an excellent, cello-heavy score from Hildur Guðnadóttir (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Chernobyl) creates a palpable sense of dread. The one drawback – the story drags a bit prior to its intensely shocking finale.
There is not much comic in this R-rated comic book movie, and the few moments that are, are perversely so. Joker is an extremely uncomfortable film to sit through and while definitely not one for the kids, for adults, it is a thought-provoking exploration of the origins of evil – and for some, an unsettling indictment of modern day society.
• Director Todd Phillips won the top prize, the Golden Lion for Best Film, for Joker at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.
• Movie theaters across the United States are beefing up security during showings of Joker, fearing the villainous character and his anarchistic message could inspire acts of violence.
• Joaquin Phoenix says losing 52 pounds for his character in Joker made him start to lose his mind. Director Todd Phillips says there were times when Phoenix would lose his composure and walk off in the middle of filming a scene.