“If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice.” said Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. The mystery surrounding this classic DC Comics’ villain has always made him more sinister – never knowing what created the monster. However, if we’re going to have an origins story of one of Batman’s most notorious enemies then this psychological thriller is a pretty good one. Joker illustrates what comic book fans have known for years; that these small picture books hold within them the possibility for some of the best stories and characters out there.
Joker is set in Gotham City 1981 and tells the story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a mentally ill downtrodden loner living with his elderly mother. He suffers from a disorder causing him to burst into laughter at inappropriate moments, causing him much anxiety and alienation.
Though he works as a sign twirler, while wearing a clown costume, he dreams of being a stand-up comedian and winning over a crowd. However, after years of teetering on the edge of sanity and daily torment on the streets because of his job, Fleck spirals into violent madness and becomes the infamous ‘Joker’.
Acting as a stand-alone film, this appearance of the Joker on the silver screen has no connection to the current DC cinematic universe, so don’t expect to see Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker pop up anywhere again. This is a one-shot deal.
The first thing you need to know about Joker is to one hundred per cent believe the hype. Joaquin Phoenix delivers an Oscar-worthy performance in this intense character study that will have your eyes glued to the screen. With every movement and twitch, Phoenix puts his all into this twisted figure creating a disturbing onscreen presence both physically and psychologically.
Secondly, Todd Phillips’ sharp direction and clean vision are definitely influenced by two of Martin Scorsese’s greats, Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, with Gothan city unmistakably resembling a hellish New York of the late 70’s and early 80’s. This really helps ground the film in a reality that maybe a little too close to home – making it more of an allegory for the state of today’s society. The film also looks great and has a beautiful colour palette all thanks to cinematographer Lawrence Sher.
This film will have you thinking and talking for some time after and will probably warrant a second and third viewing. Joker is dark, unsettling and a truly mesmerising, this outstanding cinematic experience is more American Psycho than comic book ilk.
Reviewed by Ian Wright.