Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe as DC Comics villain Joker in this fresh take, set in the early 80s, co-written and directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Co-stars Robert De Niro and Deadpool 2's Zazie Beetz. Winner of Best Film at Venice Film Festival 2019.
"Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) ekes out a living as a clown, performing for tourists and children as he dreams of fame as a stand-up comedian like his hero, talk show host Murray Franklin (De Niro). But people never do what Arthur wants them to do, his inner torment eats at him, and his ailing mother keeps harping on everything she is owed by her former employers, the Wayne family. Life is so ugly that you just have to laugh. As Arthur descends into the unhinged killer he must become, Phoenix keeps us on edge as he reveals the soul of a man in crisis. A tentative romance with his neighbour Sophie (Beetz) grows more dangerous with each encounter." (Toronto International Film Festival)
Best Actor in a Leading Role (Phoenix) and Original Score, Academy Awards 2020; Best Performance (Phoenix) & Original Score, Golden Globes 2020; Best Actor (Phoenix), Original Score & Casting, BAFTAs; Winner of the Golden Lion (Best Film), Venice Film Festival 2019
The word “problematic” boomed through social media megaphones even by people who had yet to see Todd Philips’ Joker after its much-hyped premiere at the Venice Film Festival. But for all the fears of it promoting ‘incels’ (shorthand for the ‘involuntarily celibate’ online subculture linked to real-world misogynistic horrors like the 2014 Isla Vista killings) and the broader extreme right wing movement more generally, the North American premiere that I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival left me with a different conclusion...
The Joker’s whole deal is the chaotic lack of logic behind his acts, so exploring his origin story was always going to be complicated. Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover, Due Date, War Dogs), Joker is kind of a mess. A stylised Gotham City never once captures the magic of Phillips’ alleged cinematic references—Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Akerman’s News From Home.
It is brilliantly performed – you can put the house on Phoenix getting an Oscar nomination, at least – stunningly well staged and disarmingly well written and argued. It also contains the seeds – the Batman origin story is revisited – for a remake of Batman Begins.
As a standalone piece of cinema documenting the grim descent of a broken human being into madness this is visceral, confronting, uncomfortable and flawed. Gifted storytelling in places, heavy-handed when it needn't be in others, there is so very little light in the dark and there is nothing blockbuster here.
Not to discredit the imaginative vision of the writer-director, his co-scripter and invaluable tech and design teams, but Phoenix is the prime force that makes Joker such a distinctively edgy entry in the Hollywood comics industrial complex.
Superhero blockbuster this is not: a playful fireman's-pole-based homage to the old Batman television series is one of a very few lighthearted moments in an otherwise oppressively downbeat and reality-grounded urban thriller...
"Joker" achieves two contradictory goals simultaneously, delivering a blockbuster that highlights what is eternally captivating about the character, while at the same time offering a sobering critique of the nihilism that has long been the Joker's M.O.
Having brazenly plundered the films of Scorsese, Phillips fashions stolen ingredients into something new, so that what began as a gleeful cosplay session turns progressively more dangerous - and somehow more relevant, too.