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A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: Joker

It’s Joker’s Wild As Director Todd Phillips Creates An Ugly, Gritty & Uncompromising R-Rated Psychological Thriller That Will Leave You Rattled & Proving To Be Among The Most Provocative Films Of The Year. In Another Star Making Performance Joaquin Phoenix Fully Captivates With His Performance From Start To Finish. You Can Bet On The House That Joaquin Phoenix Will Be Getting An Oscar Nomination. “Joker” Is A Must See & Deserves To Be Ranked Within The Top Three Best Films Of The Year. 

I’m sure most people were stand-offish in the early stages of the announcement of “Joker”. An R-rated origin story about DC Comics iconic villain, the clown prince of crime. Through the early discussions many people had concerns, with some worried that we would be getting a film about the Joker without Batman? Todd Phillips best known for “The Hangover Trilogy”, “Starsky & Hutch” and “Due Date” is writing and directing? Then there is the debate that has come with every new actor that embodies the role of the Joker. It happened with Heath Ledger, but look how well that turned out. No surprise, many was skeptical again about the casting of Joaquin Phoenix as Batman’s famous villain. 

Rest assured that all the reservations and skepticism you had against “Joker” can be tucked away safely, because “Joker” is an unsettling portrait of madness as any film I’ve seen in a long time. It’s an ugly, gritty and uncompromising R-rated psychological thriller that will leave many rattled, speechless and proves to be among the most provocative movies of the year. It’s an absolute must-see. 

Up until this point, I had not seen two better films this year other than, the Elton John biopic “RocketMan” and the written and directed by Emilio Estevez drama “The Public”. Now comes along Joaquin Phoenix and writer/director Todd Phillips take on the origin story of DC’s iconic villain. It’s been a few hours since I’ve seen “Joker” and I cannot stop thinking about it. I think “Joker” might just have kicked Elton John off his piano stool and Emilio out of the library, and has taken one of the top two spots of best of the year. 

Director and co-writer Todd Phillips (best known for comedies such as the “Hangover Trilogy”, “Old School” and “Due Date”) has delivered his best work as a filmmaker. “Joker” is a dark, intense, examination of a damaged and dangerous soul who lashes out at a society that has stepped all over him and looked right past him his entire life. 

Having been produced by actor/director Bradley Cooper and the legendary Martin Scorsese, Todd Phillips really gets a Scorsese vibe going here and really looks to him for inspiration. Heavily borrowing elements from Scorsese classics, “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy”. Todd Phillips paints a vision so raw and emphatic, that it plays like the greatest Martin Scorsese pictures of the 80’s that there never was. Although the films gritty style feels more that of director Sidney Lumet (“Serpico”, “Dog Day Afternoon”). 

“Joker” focuses on Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), who suffers from a neurological condition which causes him to laugh involuntarily, often at inappropriate times. It serves him well as a professional clown, but not so much when he is out of his make-up, shuffling through an empty, unhappy life in crime-riddled Gotham City. Residing in a grimy apartment with aging mother Penny (Frances Conroy), Arthur loses himself in his dream of being a stand-up comic and his fantasy of making a splash on the illustrious Murray Franklin’s (Robert De Niro) late-night talk show. 

It is apparent from the start that Arthur is mentally ill, but he has no one to turn to; when a social worker’s company abruptly shuts him out, he is left without help or access to the medication he needs. His search for an identity suddenly and unexpectedly changes when he rashly guns down three harassers on the subway while returning home one night. As headline stories adorn the media about a mysterious unknown killer dressed as a clown and with the rumblings of an anti-privilege cult that start to form in his honor. Arthur is left to assess a newfound twisted purpose in what he previously saw as a hopeless life.

Literally disappearing inside Arthur’s skin and under that creepy cackle. Joaquin Phoenix fully commits to the role mentally and physically. Whether it’s his astonishingly extreme weight loss, or in his movements as he contorts his body in a monstrous way to doing a victory rumba, as he dances like a life-size marionette To Gary Glitters “Rock & Roll Part 2”. 

Phoenix is the star, who is in every scene and there’s no doubt that his performance is haunting and despairing. As the film picks up things get more extreme and Phoenix executes his scenes with ease, as we get an understanding of his transformation from an unlucky man to a larger-than-life villain. Much like Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in 1976’s “Taxi Driver”, Arthur Fleck is a character that is certain to stick to viewers and linger in the mind. 

The physical and emotional journey Arthur goes on as he begins to learn about his and his mother’s pasts is riveting. Everything that happens to Arthur in the film, builds to a perfect storm of chaos. The results are harrowing and unnerving, it’s made all the more unsettling by Joaquin Phoenix’s momentous turn. Not only does he put his own personal stamp on it, he takes the role to unseen places of piercing psychological and emotional torment.

It’s truly something amazing of a performance, that deserves to be recognized by the Academy come Oscar time. I was fully captivated by his performance from start to finish and you can bet the house on Joaquin getting an Oscar nomination. Not only that but “Joker” also deserves best picture, best cinematography and best score no question. 

As Phoenix dominates the film so thoroughly it’s hard not to acknowledge the supporting cast, as good as they are, or as little as their part maybe. There is Francis Conroy as his detached from reality mother and Zazie Beetz  as his new neighbor. The legendary Robert De Niro, who only has one really big scene as the talk show host Arthur idolizes. 

Outside of Phoenix’s performance, the film’s big co-star is the cinematography by Lawrence Sher. His work on “Joker”, could and will put him up there with the giants. For the films haunting but beautiful score is composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who recently did work on HBO’s limited series “Chernobyl”. Both help pack a punch to all of your senses. 

While the film is said to be inspired by the heavily popular graphic novel, “The Killing Joke”. This is a far cry from the big screen comic book spectacles we have been getting so much of. It’s dark and funny, and the R-rating helps push the boundaries as you’re sometimes left with your jaw dropping. Including Joker’s sudden bursts of mayhem, which are rendered in a realistic, blood-soaked manner that is rarely seen in films featuring comic book characters. Here, the killings are seen in jarring close-ups or short distanced medium shots, giving the film a much more visceral effect. But go into this movie not knowing anything because the script by Phillips has really nice payoffs. Everything comes together nicely and smoothly.

One thing that really stood out is how it felt so grounded. This is one of the first comic book movies I’ve seen that something like this could actually happen. “Joker” will most definitely be a hot topic of conversation for awhile as it’s the first comic book movie to make me cringe in my seat. 

From the beginning, Todd Phillips has said this film was a character study and that is definitely what the audience will be getting. It’s a gritty, aching, chilling character study under the guise of a DC Comics origin story. Director Todd Phillips style in “Joker” will likely erase any memory of him as a comedy director. This is the film path Phillips should explore more often. 

If a sequel does happen I’m already intrigued to see where Phillips will take it. Let’s hope they continue to bring the magic they brought with this film. Phillips has made a film that is on par with “Taxi Driver”and is just as utterly shocking. “Joker” is an astonishing high-wire show, that stays with you. The picture you’ll get is dark haunting, disturbing and at times feels all too real.

GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 Out 5 Stars)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros lives on the beautiful island of Maui. He is a member of The Hawaii Film Critics Society, movie critic for Maui Watch, a commentator and cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, learning about movies from his Grandfather and being self taught.

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