The story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a clown for hire and wannabe comedian living in Gotham City. As he continues to search for some sort of happiness in a city coming apart at the seams, he feels more and more alone and forgotten. It's a descent into madness that will see him crowned the Clown Prince of Gotham.
Todd Phillips' exploration into the origins of one of the Dark Knight's most formidable foes is about as far from a comic book movie as you can get, and it's all the better for it. It's definitely the origin story of a comic book character - there's no denying that - but it's one wrapped in a psychological crime thriller. That said, this isn't a Joker movie as such, it's more about the man who becomes the Joker and how he gets there. And it's with this shocking yet compelling tale that Phillips proves he can do more than just comedy. Although his background in comedy has clearly had a positive influence on "Joker".
As the movie begins we are introduced to Phoenix's Fleck, a man who despite feeling downtrodden and forgotten just wants to bring joy and happiness to the world that ignores him. It becomes immediately clear that it's an up-hill struggle that only serves to fuel his psychosis. Phillips describes him as "a guy who is searching for an identity who mistakenly becomes a symbol." Phoenix is phenomenal as Arthur, he has taken this larger than life character and made him real - for some, maybe too real. Like all the actors who have played Joker, Phoenix has made the character his own, but he is still undeniably Joker. Even his laugh is incredible, it's maniacal, funny and almost frightening all at once. Watching him slowly lose his mind is both tragic and engrossing. You can't help but feel sorry for Arthur, at first anyway, until he falls off the edge and truly becomes Joker. But it's up to the audience to decide where that point of no return actually is.
Shot in New York, and with movies like "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy" for inspiration, Phillips and his crew have perfectly recreated Gotham City circa 1981. It's almost beautiful in its bleakness, and - thanks to a tremendous supporting cast - it's filled with people who only cause Arthur more pain, including talk-show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) and a rather condescending Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen). It's the perfect little cesspool to birth a character like Joker. Phillips has truly captured the psychosis of the Clown Prince with a story that continually challenges you to question what's real, possible even. There's no falling into vats of toxic chemicals, industrial accidents or experiments gone wrong here. This is about a man who feels left behind, who wants to be noticed. He feels like the whole world is against him, and when he has finally had enough he decides to do something about it.
Watching Joker, I'm reminded of Michael Caine's line from The Dark Knight: "some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn." It is the perfect way to describe Arthur Fleck's transformation into the Joker.
Todd Phillips tale of the Joker's origins is nothing short of a masterpiece - not a word I use often. Between the gripping story and Joaquin Phoenix's epic performance, it's as shocking and thought-provoking as you'd expect. At times it's even funny, even if it shouldn't be.
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