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Joker (2019)

Directed by Todd Phillips

Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy

Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is a man tormented by mental illness and surrounded by strangers. As the outside world crumbles, so does the one inside his head.

There have been few characters created in pop culture that have the complexity of the Joker. This film is a gritty character study into the factors that could create this kind of villain. Scott Silver (The Finest Hours) and Todd Phillips (Old School) wrote the screenplay, and Phillips directed. The cast of the film features Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) in the title role. He’s joined by Robert DeNiro (The Mission), Frances Conroy (The Aviator), Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2), and a number of other talented actors.

The Joker has been portrayed in popular culture since he was first introduced in Batman #1 on April 25, 1940. This film takes on the character from a new and interesting angle. In this movie Phillips and Silver have created a very human version of the iconic villain. Arthur Fleck is a man tormented by mental illness and the pressures of a world crumbling around him. The title character is abused and humiliated throughout the early moments of the movie. This slowly chips away at the fragile grip that Arthur has on reality. From there the audience is taken on an intense ride as reality and fantasy blend together into a dark fairy tale. Violence is a major part of this story, with Arthur finding himself on both the giving and receiving ends. It’s a graphic and intense film that hits hard and hits often. The twists and turns are excellently crafted, and this one avoids being even the slightest bit predictable. This one also addresses the concepts of how mental illness is treated by public institutions and society. These elements aren’t hammered into the audience, but are woven into a very good story. This is a movie that will surprise the audience while introducing them to a different kind of Joker.

The cast of this film were presented with some incredibly complex characters. Joaquin Phoenix does a great job tackling the many flaws and idiosyncrasies of his role, transitioning from Arthur Fleck into the Joker. Throughout the film he dives deeper and deeper into the psychosis his character is experiencing. This takes Arthur from a harmless outcast to a dangerous and troubled man. Phoenix also keeps everything on the surface. He plays the role in a way that feels like he’s always on the edge of losing control. It’s a disturbing and fascinating performance to watch, and it’s worth every minute.

The rest of the cast does a great job as well. Frances Conroy has some incredible moments as the ailing mother, Penny Fleck. Like Phoenix, she’s playing a complicated person with a number of unique flaws. She finds just the right way to play opposite Phoenix. Robert DeNiro also does great work in this one. His character is a combination of television personalities we’re all familiar with, but he makes it his own. Zazie Beetz also does great work playing the literal girl next door. Every one of the central cast members was asked to find deep emotion throughout the movie. It’s an incredible collection of performances that combine to make something very unique.

Like the subject material, this one lives in the grit and grime of the setting. There’s never a moment in this one that feels like we’re inside a comic book. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher (Dan in Real Life) did a great job giving this film a real-world look. The color choices create a tone that is only disrupted in moments of violence. The set decoration and locations bring everything together, fitting in with the grim world that the characters come from. The makeup and costuming work also help to give the movie a consistent tone. The overall visual quality of this one is really wonderful. Everything seems to come together in perfect harmony with the story being told. Additionally, the film features perfectly chosen music as well as some nice new compositions from Hildur Guðnadóttir (The Oath).

This movie is not a comic book film in the way that people are used to. While the source of the story comes from classic comic book canon, this is something unique. Instead of a battle against the heroic protagonist, this is more about a battle one man has with himself and the world around him. If violence bothers you, this is might not be the one for you. In this movie the violence is graphic and intense. I would definitely suggest this one to fans of other portrayals of the Joker. I would also encourage comic book movie fans to try this one out. This is an R-rated movie but don’t go in expecting Deadpool. This is something very different. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: R

Running Time: 121 Minutes

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