Monday, October 14, 2019

Joker (2019 film)

Based on the character from DC Comics, Joker is the story of a wannabe stand-up comedian whose descent into madness would force him to become an agent of chaos and wreak havoc on Gotham City. Directed by Todd Phillips and screenplay by Phillips and Scott Silver, the film is an origin story of sorts set in the late 1970s/early 1980s as it play into a man who is struggling to fit in to society only to deal with his own mental illness and rejection from the world as the titular character/Arthur Fleck is portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. Also starring Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Marc Maron, and Robert de Niro. Joker is a haunting yet intense film from Tod Phillips.

Set in 1981 during a time of civil and social unrest in Gotham City, the film follows a man who works as a rent-a-clown who aspires to be a stand-up comedian as he copes with his own mental issues as an act of violence he committed would give him a spark in his life. It’s a film that explore a man who would become Batman’s top nemesis and what he was before he had become this agent of chaos. The film’s screenplay by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver establishes a world that is similar to what was happening to New York City in the mid-late 1970s during a time of economic turmoil, social and civil unrest, and crime being the norm where Arthur Fleck is just a guy trying to work as a clown to make money to help his ailing mother Penny (Frances Conroy) yet he is beaten up by a gang of kids one day and is already in trouble while he often has to write a journal for a social worker (Sharon Washington) handling his case and giving him medication. Things however are getting bad as social services is dealing with budget cuts while Arthur would lose his job due to a small incident though no one was hurt.

Arthur also has a condition where he laughs uncontrollably whenever he gets emotional or anxious as it play into the repressed emotions he is carrying as his time caring for his mother starts to overwhelm him. While he would find a source of comfort in befriending his neighbor in Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz), he has trouble trying to connect with the world including in his attempts to be stand-up comedy. His biggest dream is to succeed and appear on a late-night talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert de Niro) yet reality would collide with Arthur following an incident where he is beaten by three Wall Street workers whom he would kill in defense on a subway. It would be a key moment in the film as the death of these three men would spark a social uprising during an election year in which one of Gotham’s richest men in Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is running for mayor hoping to fix the city. Adding to the drama is Penny’s claims that she is to receive a letter from Wayne since she used to work for him prompting Arthur to find out more about her relationship with Wayne leading to some major revelations.

Phillips’ direction definitely evokes two films by Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy with more emphasis on the latter which was about a wannabe stand-up comedian trying to be friends with a talk show host only to later kidnap him. Shot on location in New York City as well as parts of Newark, New Jersey, the film does play into that world of a city on the brink of collapse as it’s surrounded by garbage due to a garbage strike with rats eating the garbage. Employment is becoming scarce with the poor being poorer and the rich being richer with Arthur being part of the former as he is struggling to work as a clown to help failing businesses or to entertain children at a children’s hospital. Much of Phillips’ direction is straightforward in its compositions with some wide shots of a few locations as well as to play into Arthur’s disconnect with society and reality. The close-ups and medium shots that play into Arthur’s interaction with others including a tense meeting with Thomas Wayne at a benefit play into his attempts to connect with people.

Phillips’ direction does have a few drawbacks as it relates to a few twists that play into Arthur’s revelation about himself and his mother with the latter given a storyline about a possible relationship with Wayne that never really gels out despite what is revealed. The exploration of social chaos definitely takes a cynical view of things where it play into this air of social discord between the rich and the poor with Arthur being this unlikely hero for the latter and the enemy of the former yet no one knows about his identity as the man who killed those three yuppie men. Though Arthur doesn’t take sides in this conflict nor does he condone the actions of others, the film does play into the impact he creates where Phillips is aware that Arthur is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. The film’s third act that has him face up to the realities of the world and strip away whatever delusions he and his mother had would showcase a man that has inspired a dangerous movement of anarchy that would have some serious consequences including how it would affect a young boy named Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson). Overall, Phillips crafts a chilling yet gripping film about a mentally-ill man whose disconnect with the world would make him a master of chaos.

Cinematographer Lawrence Sher does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its emphasis on low-key colors with certain lighting moods and schemes to help play into Arthur’s behavior as well as the state of Gotham City in its growing sense of decay. Editor Jeff Groth does terrific work with the editing as it does bear some style in some of the rhythmic cuts it creates to play into the drama, suspense, and some of the film’s dark humor. Production designer Mark Friedberg, with set decorator Kris Moran and art director Laura Ballinger, does amazing work with the look of the apartment home that Arthur and Penny lived in as its cramped and in drab conditions to reflect the world they live in as well as the studio that Murray Franklin hosts his show. Costume designer Mark Bridges does fantastic work with the costumes from the clothes that Arthur wears as it would involve into the suit he would wear upon his evolution as the Joker to the clothes of other people that they wore during the early 80s.

Makeup designer Nicki Ledermann and prosthetics makeup effects designer Michael Marino do superb work with the look of the makeup that Arthur wears as a clown and its evolution that would play into his growing manic state. The visual effects work of Brian Adler, Joseph Oberle, and Kondareddy Suresh is nice for the way it presents early 1980s Gotham City in its grungy and decayed look as well as some of the chaos that occurs during the film’s third act. Sound editor Alan Robert Murray does nice work with the sound in the way music sounds on a location or in a room as well as the usage of natural sounds and voices that Arthur would hear as it play into his growing descent.

The film’s music by Hildur Guonadottir is wonderful for its ominous yet eerie music score with its emphasis on strings and brass to play into Arthur’s descent while music supervisors George Drakoulias and Randall Poster provide a music soundtrack that mixes an array of music from the likes of Claude Bolling, Frank Sinatra, Cream, the Main Ingredient, Fred Astaire, Lawrence Welk, Stephen Sondheim, and Charles Chaplin that play into the world that Arthur is in though the one major blemish in the music soundtrack is a 70s glam rock piece by a certain convicted pedophile whose name doesn’t deserve any mention.

The casting by Shayna Markowitz is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Rocco Luna as Sophie’s daughter Gigi, Josh Pais as Arthur’s boss, Leigh Gill as the midget clown Gary, Carrie Louise Purtello as Martha Wayne, April Grace as Arkham asylum psychiatrist, Sharon Washington as Arthur’s social worker, Glenn Fleshler as a clown named Randall who would give Arthur a handgun, Hannah Gross as a young Penny in a flashback scene, Brian Tyree Henry as an Arkham hospital clerk who makes a discovery about Arthur, Marc Maron as Franklin’s producer Gene Ufland, and Dante Pereira-Olson as a young Bruce Wayne. Other notable small roles include Shea Whigham and Bill Camp as a couple of detectives asking Arthur some questions about what happened the yuppie murders.

Douglas Hodge is terrific in his lone scene as Bruce Wayne’s caretaker Alfred Pennyworth who confronts Arthur while revealing things about Arthur’s mother. Brett Cullen is superb as Thomas Wayne as the billionaire who is running for mayor to help Gotham as he isn’t fond of the poor believing that some of them are trouble while he would have an encounter with Arthur that doesn’t go well. Frances Conroy is fantastic as Arthur’s mother Penny as a woman feeling ill as well as having delusions with claims about a relationship with Thomas Wayne though she did work for him as she is waiting for a letter from him. Zazie Beetz is excellent as Sophie Dumond as a neighbor of Fleck who would befriend him while sharing her own disdain of the rich but is not as cynical like everyone else knowing right from wrong.

Robert de Niro is brilliant as the late-night talk show host Murray Franklin who would play a role in Arthur’s own descent into madness after making fun of his stand-up performance as he is someone Arthur wanted to meet as this comedic idol. Finally, there’s Joaquin Phoenix in a tour-de-force performance as Arthur Fleck as this wannabe stand-up comedian and rent-a-clown that feels rejected by society and is constantly abused while overwhelmed with his duties to take care of his mother. It’s a performance that has Phoenix display an amazing air of physicality as well as play into someone that is troubled who later does horrible things as he is a man to be pitied and not revered as Phoenix creates this balance of a man that becomes lost in his own madness.

Joker is a marvelous film from Todd Phillips that features a great performance from Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role. Along with its ensemble cast, grimy visuals, study of mental descent and isolation, and an offbeat music soundtrack, it’s a unique character study into a man who starts off as someone trying to be good only to become a villain though there’s parts of the narrative and direction that doesn’t work as it play into the journey that this man would endure. In the end, Joker is a remarkable film from Todd Phillips.

Related: Taxi Driver - The King of Comedy - Batman (1989 film) - The Dark Knight - The Lego Batman Movie

© thevoid99 2019


ThePunkTheory said...

I was deeply impressed by this film. Joaquin Phoenix's performance is stellar. The story is written in such an intricate and smart way, they did a great job exploring the Joker's past!

Brittani Burnham said...

I had a feeling you'd enjoy this one more than I did. lol

thevoid99 said...

@Phoenix is the reason to see the film though I admit that the script had some shortcomings in the way it deals with Fleck's identity and his relationship with his mother.

@Brittani-Having re-read your review, I can understand why you didn't like it and I'm fine with that. I do like the film but I don't think it's this great film that some are claiming it to be. Plus, I'm trying to figure out why this film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival amidst an array of more high-profiled films that played at the festival.

Chris said...

The idea of doing the joker's back story I'm surprised hasn't been put on the screen previously. The movie is not perfect but I think it features a great central performance by Phoenix which differs from Ledger and Nicholson by humanizing the joker. I agree it's a poor decision to include that 70s glam rock piece, especially as Arthur was abused as a child.

thevoid99 said...

@Chris-I agree that it isn't perfect as I felt they didn't do enough to explore Fleck's mental illness and a few things in the plotting but I still liked the film. I'm glad to know someone here isn't fond of that song here as I remember I think a year ago watching a performance by the Who from 1996 doing songs from Quadrophenia and he appeared and I just screamed in horror.