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Film Review: Joker (2019)

Joker (2019) is a psychological thriller film, and is the latest comic book film to be released this year, but this one being a standalone outside of the DC universe. Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover Trilogy), this film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro and Zazie Beetz. In a new and darker retelling of the origin story of the Joker, Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is a failing comedian who, through many dark moments and illnesses that he suffers, goes down a path of crime and further misery in a dark Gotham City.

Joker (2019) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

Joaquin Phoenix is incredible in the role of Arthur Fleck, and manages to bring new life to a character we have seen on screen countless times. He offers a fresh look into the damaged mind of the Joker, bringing a sense of real tragedy to the character. Yet, he also shows the dangerous and dark side to Arthur, making the audience aware that he is not a character you should sympathise or care about. He is a victim, but he also cannot be saved, and Phoenix manages to get all of through mainly just by expressions. One of the most iconic parts of the Joker persona is the laugh, and Phoenix even twists this to a medical condition that both makes sense to the character, but adds a dark realness to the situation.

The other performances here are superb in helping maintain a sense of realness, but also keeping the world around Arthur Fleck grounded when he starts to go insane. Robert De Niro could have easily given a simple and plain performance here for his cheque, but he actually gives a really solid performance here. Zazie Beets gives an incredibly strong performance as well, particularly for the situations that her character goes through. Every single performance here is done well and helps drive the film.

This is a simple story that does not require much action or sub-plots to drive it, and I very much appreciated that. There are several sub-plots that are all used incredibly well, and these are done either to tie in the world of Gotham City or to help the characterisation of the Joker come to life. Every single plot point comes together nicely and does not overwhelm the main storyline of Arthur Fleck slowly getting into crime and deteriorating throughout the film. To some, it may seem a slow burn by its simple concept, but it is one with major payoff and no wasted moments.

This film comes in at a nice 117 minutes, just short of two hours. Every single minutes of those two hours are vital to the story and the characterisation of the Joker, even with the amount of laughing sequences he has. With every scene, you get a look into Arthur Fleck and see his reactions change for the worse more and more. The editing is spot on, making it clear what is real and what is fake in a film focused on an unreliable narrator. I didn’t feel like I needed any other scenes for the film to be complete, this film has a distinct start and a solid conclusion that will end up satisfying most DC fans.

Joker (2019) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

I am somebody that adores psychological thrillers, or really most films about mental illness that is done correctly. What I appreciate about Joker is that Todd Phillips along with Phoenix did a lot of research into the sorts of behaviours that can drive a person insane, as well as creating a character that is suffering from trauma and being around the environment that he is in. This film does not insult the people who are abused or tortured, rather saying that help is there for those who need it. There are also some great points about violence and the environment that we live in even to this day, but I personally never found this film to glorify any sort of threat or damage that other media outlets are trying to suggest.

If people are disappointed in Joker, it will be because of the tone and style of film it is. It is a dark, gritty film about a man going insane. There is little action and few laughs to be had. This film is supposed to make you uncomfortable and on the edge of your seat. There is a sequence where I wanted to hide myself away because I was cringing for Arthur and his situation. Some people won’t like that, and that is okay. But if they felt uncomfortable watching this film, then congratulations to Phillips because he succeeded in what he was going for. This is not an easy watch like a huge majority of comic book films out in this decade. This challenges the audience, and I appreciate any filmmaker that takes this stance as it is hard to pull off and still create a fantastic, entertaining film.

It is clear that there are many influences for this film that goes past the DC comic lure, and it makes this film feel fresh in a way. There are many articles and points that people can pick out in terms of influences, but I immediately spotted nods to Taxi Driver, King of Comedy and Psycho just to name a few. This is a director that has clear inspirations from the history of film and took a well-known name as the Joker to tell his own story inspired by these classic films. It almost feels like a product from the 70s or 80s, and I adore it.

Joker (2019) – source: Warner Bros. Pictures

I am honestly struggling to find a major flaw with this film, that is how much I adored it. As someone who loves psychological thrillers and major character development, this is right up my street. There was not a single wasted moment or a filler scene or shot here, the two hours are used incredibly effectively to develop a character that you cannot justify or like, but that you understand and want to get help for. I need to see this film again and make several articles about it soon, that is how much I simply loved this film.


Have you gone out to see Joker yet? Did you adore it as much as I did, or are you one of the people that didn’t like it? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.

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