Joker: Venice Film Review

Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Woah, I thought I was prepared for Joker, but it turns out I wasn’t. Because the iconic Batman villain has been seen on screen many times before, you think you know what his origins film will be like but you don’t. Joker will shock and surprise you A LOT.

Director Todd Phillips and his co-writer Scott Silver have created an original story which ignores the comic books. In their take, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck, who has been recently released from a mental institution and is frequently given a lot of medication to help him manage his mental health issues, which includes an uncontrollable laughing disorder. However, when Gotham City budget cuts mean this service is taken away, Fleck is left without medication, and he truly begins to spiral when he is fired from his clown entertaining job, when his attempt to break into stand-up comedy is mocked by late-night TV host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), and when he learns some shocking news about his mother Penny (Frances Conroy).

We have not seen a version of the Joker like this before. We usually see him as a psychopathic villain in a caricature way, we never get much depth because he usually just appears in somebody else’s movie. This film is a gritty, disturbing and very dark character study about how he got to that place but it also works as a broader cautionary tale about how people with mental illness are treated. He is disregarded by society and made to look after himself and his mother, who is also mentally ill. It’s actually really sad how he is treated and I ended up feeling sorry for him even though he becomes this twisted murderer!

Phoenix has got some stunning performances under his belt already but he is formidable here. Convincingly portraying someone with a mental illness is difficult, especially one with uncontrollable laughter and one that goes from almost manageable to unhinged over the course of the film. He does well to keep the performance sincere and never goes into the classic caricature Joker territory. He would have had to go to a very dark place to play someone who says he’s never been happy ever in his life and Phoenix thoroughly deserves an award nomination for his efforts. Appearance wise, I loved how he was styled when he was the Joker but he lost so much weight for the part that it made me uncomfortable seeing so much of his ribcage when he was topless.

There’s not much to say on the support cast really because this is very much Phoenix’s show. De Niro was amusing as TV host Murray but everyone else is barely in it, such as Zazie Beetz as Arthur’s neighbour Sophie, Brian Tyree Henry as a hospital clerk, Marc Maron as Murray’s colleague and Bill Camp and Shea Whigham as police officers. Brett Cullen makes a small appearance as Thomas Wayne, who is running for Gotham Mayor, and Dante Pereira-Olson has what’s essentially a cameo as Bruce Wayne. I was really glad they weren’t part of the story too much.

If you’re expecting a superhero movie spin-off, you’ll be very much mistaken. Joker is its own beast entirely. It is grim, tragic and brutal and sometimes quite violent, so much so that I gasped a couple of times. There’s some dark humour in there but it’s mostly pretty bleak stuff so I came out of the movie feeling pretty bummed out and in a bit of daze.

I’ve seen some people calling this a masterpiece but I wouldn’t go that far. However, Phillips has created a terrific, shocking and unexpected film featuring an astounding performance from Phoenix.

Joker is part of the official competition at the 76th annual Venice Film Festival. It will hit cinemas on 4th October

Rating: 4/5

Comments

  1. Sounds great. Shame I have to wait till October to see it.

    Like

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