Let me start of by saying that, unlike the lackluster performance from Jared Leto in 2016 Suicide Squad, Joaquin Phoenix knocked it off the roof with his performance in this movie. The performance really conveyed the feeling of the Joker Heath Ledger left us with in the Batman trilogy while mixing it with a fresh breeze of new subtle character details we have not seen of the Joker before.
The Joker directed by Todd Philips and based in the Expanded DC Universe tells the story of a mentally ill Arthur Fleck on his journey from an employed clown to a psychopath worthy of setting Gotham city in total chaos. This new setting for a movie starring the character of Joker really made for an intriguing plot enriching Joker’s character. For most of the audience, especially the people who are not into comics, it is certainly a new experience seeing the character development the Joker went through before going on the adventures we know him for like fighting Batman, getting to know Harley Quinn and spreading terror and fear over the imaginary city of Gotham.
This review will contain heavy spoilers for the movie, so if you have not seen the movie do that first.
In the beginning of the movie we get to see Arthur Fleck going through his everyday struggles. He is employed at a clown agency, lives with his mother and has to go to a psychologist because of a mental condition. Clearly not a very happy and successful life. The direction of the movie really emphasized on this point as they go into much detail on this part of the story. After getting the sad feelings rolling in the audience, things really start kicking off. Multiple characters are introduced one after another, who seem like good friends in the beginning, but later go on to lie to, hurt or betray Arthur. This is a repeating element of the movie, which drags him into a downward spiral, getting angrier and more depressed every time. There is a feeling of loneliness Arthur is dragged into more and more.
A few examples of betrayals displayed on screen are a colleague gifting him a gun getting Arthur fired and then go on to say he wanted to buy it off of him. His female neighbor, with whom he starts a short relationship and then gets rejected in a disappointing fashion when he needs help the most. A TV personality who befriends him in a live show and later on making fun of him and his comedy skills on that same live TV show. And most importantly his mother telling Arthur to always smile for his whole life. She then goes on and tells lies about his father and conceals the fact he was adopted and abused by her when he was young, leading to her being kept in the Arkham State Hospital (The Arkham Asylum of this movie).
After being disappointed again and again he begins to cut himself out of society. He then starts off by shooting three rich drunk people in a metro, because they started fighting him over one of his mental conditions that causes him to laugh without a cause. This crime takes a long time to be investigated, but Arthur seems to enjoy the feeling of killing people who offend him.
We go on to see him killing every person I have mentioned before betraying and hurting him and his feelings. With every murder he gets dragged deeper into his dark mental state, which causes him to murder in a more brutal manner every time. But do not get me wrong on this one: This movie is far from a blood bath. It really focuses on how Arthur is feeling during every stage of his transition to becoming the Joker.
With his actions in murdering the three rich people in the metro he sparked a political movement of clowns from the lower layers of society, which cause mayhem in the city of Gotham and this is another point causing him to spiral out of control even more.
The final action helping him over the edge of becoming the Joker is the murder of the moderator of the live TV show. This is also when we get to know why Joker is called Joker. A flashback scene reveals him in said TV show at a younger age getting called on stage and being called the Joke by said moderator. When he then is a full guest in the show at the end of the movie he has a monologue on live television revealing his metro murder and a rant on how society is bad and unfair in his eyes. He then goes on to shoot the moderator in revenge for showing a clip of him on a comedy stage not performing too well. In the end he becomes the leader of the clown movement, leading to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. We only get to see a final scene, where he tries to escape the Arkham State Hospital.
Overall the plot of the movie really leaves nothing on the table. It contains every element a good thriller movie needs. During the whole movie you are on your heels on what will happen next and what is going on in the Joker’s mind. There is no downtime for tension in this movie. Every scene has a purpose and tells you new pieces you need to fill the puzzling mind of the Joker with sense. This is very much needed for the movie, as understanding the intention and emphasizing with the actions of the Joker is the center piece of the movie. Without this empathy the movie would totally fall apart and it would just be a crazy person going on a killing spree.
The direction of the movie goes all in on the dark feelings the movie is trying to convey. Scenes are littered with dirty water, graffiti and broken or dirty walls which really gives you the feeling of seeing a really poor and chaotic city. This is a perfect environment for the character development of the Joker. Lighting also plays huge part in the overall impression of the movie. There are almost no scenes where there is bright lighting. Most of the time lights are placed decentralized which also helps focus on the important areas of the scene. Flickering lights are also a stylistic element often used in the movie. Especially the chaotic scenes in the metro really profit from these hectic lighting conditions. If you really focus on it you can make out that the lighting conditions get darker as the action goes on. In the beginning you can see some scenes playing during day time while later scenes mostly play indoors or during night.
The cinematography was absolutely stunning. It fitted the theme of a psycho thriller perfect. The use of close-up shots was perfect on setting up the emotion and feeling of the movie. In combination with the great performance from the actors it made for a perfect demonstration of how dark emotions can get, how these emotions can get the best of you and how one person may express those emotions.
There are many beautiful scenes with only a few cuts in between, which is often used to create a building tension over a scene. Zooming also helped a lot with it, as often times a wide shot goes very narrow as the tension in a scene gets greater. Overall the director made brilliant use of the camera and cuts to support his vision of this dark and tense movie.
Just like the cinematography, music and sound go hand in hand with the theme of the movie and never comes across as bothering. Oftentimes you do not even notice the music playing in the background as it is just so natural and fitting for the scene. There is no huge emphasize on music, but when it is used it is used with purpose.
Also in some occasions music and sound effects are completely blended out to lay focus on the visual queues and their darkness. Often this is combined with the feeling of emptiness and confusion of the Joker.
Costumes in the movie are quite different and new for a movie featuring the Joker. Originally Joker was always known as for his purple suite, he now wears a yellow and red one. This is a welcome change for the Joker as the colors are really fitting for the character on display in this movie. Also seeing the Joker without his make-up slowly going over to finding his way to become more anonymous through the mask is an interesting thing to see, as you can see the evolving elements on his make-up and understanding where each element comes from.
The beautiful selection of costumes also applies for all the other characters in the movie. Their costumes are mostly dark and fitting for the environment they are used in. The Joker’s neighbor for example is dressed quite different across the movie and really dependent on the current situation between the Joker and her. In the situations where they are getting closer to one another her use of colorful and fancy clothes goes up.
Like I already said in the beginning the performance of Joaquin Phoenix was just exceptional. He really brought new life into the character of the Joker. It was a new take on the role, but he really made it work and brought across the emotions beautifully. Especially the use of hard and unnatural laughs are executed perfect for the role. It is just an Oscar worthy performance letting to hope for another movie starring him.
The other actors in this movie are not getting too much screen time each so it was really hard for them to establish their character on screen. This movie is mostly about one character and one character only, therefore the performance of the other actors don’t really stand out, but they also don’t stand out negatively which is fine for the overall performance of the movie.
To conclude the review, The movie Joker released in the USA on the 4th of October 2019 directed by Todd Philips starring Joaquin Phoenix is close to being a masterpiece. The combination of cinematography, music and scenes makes for a perfect psycho thriller displaying and alternative origin story of the character “The Joker” in the Expanded DC Universe. I will give the movie a 9/10 as I would have hoped for a better inclusion of the side characters and a little bit more context for each of them. But overall I enjoyed the movie very much and I will probably watch the movie again multiple times some time in the future.