This DC comic character that has been brilliantly done onscreen by Oscar winners Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, so what could possibly be left to bring in terms of characterization that we haven’t seen? Joaquin Phoenix…that’s what. Phoenix brings an emaciated, pill popping Joker back with vengeance, vigor and vivaciousness that will have your head swirling long after the credits have rolled.
Todd Phillips warned the audience at the Toronto International Film Festival World Premiere to get ready because this film is ‘bonkers.’ Bonkers doesn’t even begin to describe this complex, reimagined revisit into the world of Arthur Fleck. Which would be one of the reasons that the Los Angeles premiere shut out press and screenings were cancelled for Aurora, CO. Just to refresh your memory, On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting occurred inside a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. Dressed in tactical clothing, James Eagan Holmes set off tear gas grenades and shot into the audience with multiple firearms that resulted in 12 deaths. I will admit that there is massive gun violence that occurs within the framework of this film, so it is understandable that the studio and citizens around the country be concerned and cautious.
Having said that, Phillips and Scott Silver’s original screenplay is a marvelous take of this fan favorite leaving nice rewarding reference points for fans. Shocking in its originality and intensity, Joker provides a fully immersed performance from Phoenix who creatively gives audiences an unsettling, no holds barred portrait of the villain we thought we knew.
Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) makes 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 (Robert 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 a disturbing unhinged killer, Phoenix keeps us on edge revealing the soul of a man in crisis with his past, present and future.
Part of the pleasure of watching Joker stems from its technical brilliance, production design, cinematography and nods to Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver (which are quite recognizable throughout the film’s bloodline). Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score drives the action to a fever pitch along with nods to the obvious clown classic ‘Send in The Clowns,’ an old R&B joint ‘Everybody Plays The Fool’ and Rat Pack favorite ‘That’s Life.’
Joker is certifiable proof that everything old is indeed new again!