Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher


Joker -- a commentary by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Frankly, I am intensely ambivalent about this movie.  Director and co-writer Todd Phillips claims that he aimed for the spirit of a film era--the decade of 1973-83.  In several ways, he did.  He gets the gritty urban underbelly of Gotham City and the rising intensity of underclass unrest and individual paranoia so prevalent in films of that period.  Credit Cinematographer Lawrence Sher and Production Designer Mark Fredberg for the visual verité and Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir for the intense, moody backdrop (augmented by slyly ironic classic rock and pop selections).  Joaquin Phoenix inhabits the title role in his best, and most disturbing performance since Freddy Quell, the alcoholic zealot in The Master.  There have been many Joker portrayals over the years.  Most of us consider Heath Ledger's turn in 2008's brilliant The Dark Knight to be the standard by which all others are compared.  Only two have dared attempt it since; ironically, they have been Jared Leto's much-ridiculed attempt in 2016's Suicide Squad and Phoenix's much-praised performance here.

Phillips has assembled a tremendous cast in support of Phoenix's Arthur Fleck/"Joker." Frances Conroy as his invalid mother with whom he shares a tenement apartment, Zazie Beetz as a single mom who lives down the hall and serves as his fantasy love, Bill Camp and Shea Whigham as a pair of homicide detectives, Brett Cullen as investment magnate Thomas Wayne (father of Bruce), Brian Tyree Henry (underused) in a single scene as a records clerk, and most significantly Robert DeNiro as late-night talk show host who is also Arthur's idol.  It's appropriate that Robert DeNiro is featured in this film, because he not only exemplifies one of Joker's strengths, he also reminds us of where the film falls short.  Despite Phillips' claims of an era inspiring Joker, it is highly derivative of two of DeNiro's best films: Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy

Arthur Fleck is so psychologically disturbed that he alienates those around him.  Not only is he socially awkward, but he also is afflicted with the bizarre tic whereby he falls into uncontrolled maniacal laughter when under stress.  He dreams of being a standup comedian because his mother has told him his purpose in life is to bring joy and laughter to others.  Arthur's lack of self-awareness is such that he believes the insane scrawlings of his journal entries are jokes that will propel him to stand-up comedy stardom.  He watches Murray Franklin's (DeNiro) late-night talk show and fantasizes about being a guest.  He meets Sophie (Beetz) by chance on the tenement elevator and their small talk convinces him that they have chemistry.  Still, Arthur is relatively harmless, except to himself.  His -- and Gotham City's -- real problems are attributable to Reagan-era cuts that widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Social unrest simmers, needing only a spark to create an explosion. Arthur's access to counseling and his seven med prescriptions are eliminated, and this coincides with a traumatic revelation about his past.  Arthur's fantasies become more grandiose, his rage turns outward, and he inadvertently becomes the spark that ignites a firestorm. 

Joker is as divisive as it is riveting.  As of this date, audiences like it a lot more than critics do: on IMDb, it enjoys a phenomenal audience score of 8.9 (out of 10), based on more than 324,000 moviegoers; contrast that with a Metascore of 59 (out of 100), based on 58 critical reviews.  Phoenix is magnetic, and from the beginning, the film s mesmerizing; seizing our attention, it doesn't release its grip until the screen fades to black. It is not entertaining but rather relentlessly downbeat; further, we are often so embarrassed for Arthur it is difficult to watch, and the third act has unnecessarily vivid spasms of violence.  Some have made much of the portrayal of Arthur's fantasized love for Sophie and how this might incite incels to violence.  Wow, just wow! Talk about missing the forest for the trees.  This film is about the danger posed by the government being in bed with predatory capitalism; it is about the ever-widening wealth gap and class divisions.  And in the end, the failed stand-up comedian finally gains acclaim as an urban terrorist.
8.0 out of 10


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