Joker (Todd Phillips, 2019, USA/Canada)

            First things first – Joker is not the greatest film ever made. I wouldn’t even necessarily call it great. That being said, it is a dark and compelling film (that probably wouldn’t have had a major release without its connection to the DC Universe). Channeling the great classics of Martin Scorsese more than Nolan’s Dark Knight or certainly anything in the Marvel universe, Joker sits comfortably as a Taxi Driver or King of Comedy for the millennial generation. Joaquin Phoenix as the Travis Bickle-esque Joker is outstanding in the lead role, physically embodying the performance of a man descending into madness.            
            Todd Phillips is not a profoundly engaging director from a thematic level – loading misery onto misery onto misery does not make the most interesting film. Yet he does a great job capturing the texture and world that the the films’ characters occupy. The setting – New York City in the 1980s standing in for Gotham – is an ideal background for Arthur Fleck’s descent into madness. Likewise certain other choices lend to this feeling. Hildur Guðnadóttir – fresh off her excellent work on HBO’s Chernobyl– brings a pulsing and foreboding string-based score that adds profoundly to the atmosphere of the film.
            Joker is perhaps greater in moments than as a whole. There are incredible and poetic scenes – mostly involving Phoenix dancing – that render the whole film a worthwhile watch. Likewise, the finale involving Arthur Fleck’s confrontation with a Johnny Carson-type talk show host – played by Robert De Niro in a clear nod to the King of Comedy– is also incredibly tense and well executed. The film is perhaps less successful when trying to connect to Batman and the wider DC universe. While these connections are obligatory to please the fan boys, they still feel rather tacked on. Even so, Joker is a satisfying watch - albeit more form over substance.



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