Todd Phillip’s Joker (2019) has raised the standard for all DC movies. It has earned its place among classics like Taxi Driver and The Departed. Let’s hope Warner Bros. continues down this path.

Forever alone in a crowd, failed comedian Arthur Fleck seeks connection as he walks the streets of Gotham City. Arthur wears two masks — the one he paints for his day job as a clown, and the guise he projects in a futile attempt to feel like he’s part of the world around him. Isolated, bullied and disregarded by society, Fleck begins a slow descent into madness as he transforms into the criminal mastermind known as the Joker.

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Acting

There really only is one star of the show. This is movie about Arthur Fleck, a comedian with a mental illnesses who loses touch with reality. Although there are other characters in the film, they’re of very little significance to the bigger picture, and they merely seem like extras in comparison to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance… even Robert DeNiro.

Joker is a story about one man’s downward spiral into complete madness. So, let’s focus on that.

As Arthur Fleck

Joaquin’s performance as Arthur Fleck, the failed comedians suffering from a mental illness, is spine chillingly realistic. His maniacal laugh is explained by a medical condition. It is a coping mechanism. He breaks out into extreme uncontrollable nervous laughter when he finds himself in a situation he doesn’t know how to respond to. And as we learn more about Arthur’s troubled past, these laughing fits begin to make more sense. It never feels feel cheap or forced.

You’ll often wonder whether Arthur is laughing or crying; although his body flails uncontrollable and he laughs with a deep guttural sound, his eyes tell a completely different story. His eyes tell a story of fear, panic, confusion and even self loathing. This is something that slowly changes as Arthur discovers his inner Joker, and begins to accept the way he is.

As Joker

It really isn’t until 2/3rds of the way through the movie we properly get introduced to Joker, though. But when the moment finally comes you will find yourself covered from head-to-toe in goose-bumps. People don’t want compare him to Heath Ledger, but I will. Joaquin Phoenix is the better Joker, hands down.

Phoenix as Joker (2019)
Picture courtesy of WB, Joker (2019)

Maybe it is because Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker doesn’t just feel like a comic book villain. Without being over the top Joaquin Phoenix still manages to capture the Joker’s best qualities; he’s insane not evil.

Todd Phillips and Scott Silver have managed to create the most terrifying Joker without making him sound or look menacing. The real horror lies within his unpredictability. He’s like the Cujo of villains.

Music and Sound

The score feels like an extension of Arthur himself. Intense music might seem out of place at times, but it kind of gives us an inside to Arthur’s dark thoughts.

Icelandic composer and classically trained cellist, Hildur Guðnadóttir, matched each scene masterfully. A lot of the film, figuratively, takes place inside Joker’s head, and her score score acts as sort of narration to Arthur’s thoughts. It’s beautiful and it is haunting.

The dark and winding cello melodies invoke the emotion of fatigue and struggle while a slow echoing beat and deep rumbling bass fill the viewers with a sense of impending doom.

The soundtrack seems like an obvious choice for this film, but the cinematic recuts and editing give new life and meaning to the old classics. A perfect example of this is the rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’ that plays when Joker gives his speech on live television.

Direction

Tom Phillips ties every element of the film together perfectly. Pacing was a little slow, but Joaquin Phoenix’s performance made every second count. Joker doesn’t inherently feel like a comic book movie, it feels more like a serial killer biopic with a tie in to a comic book universe, and that’s what I love about it. Hollywood is over-saturated with over the top action superhero films, so it feels fresh getting a character driven superhero film for once.

There’s definite moments of dark comedy scattered throughout the film to give the audience an unexpected laugh in otherwise intense and depressing scenes. These moments are subtle, but they are definitely there. In one scene in particular we see a broadcast of Joker shooting someone, they censor out his swearing while still showing the gory shooting live on air. Kind of poking fun at the double standards of FCC censorship.

The standard for DC films has been raised

There are so many reasons to love Joker, but there are also just as many reasons to hate it. While some might hate it for straying of the beaten path of Batman lore, others might love it for that same reason. But I think everyone will love Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck.

The film is quite disturbing and I can definitely see it striking a nerve for some. It is very graphic and it deals with some very real issues. But it deals with these issues tastefully. The film doesn’t glorify killing in anyway. Nor does it empathise for serial killers. Arthur Fleck was insane and that’s the bottom line.

With that being said, Joker is not far off being the perfect film; it is worthy of an Oscar in all departments and I think I will be offended if Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t get one. It will go down as an all-time classic earning its spot among movies like Taxi Driver, Scarface and The Departed. But this means the standards for DC films have been raised, and now Warner Bros. must make sure that any future films connected to Joker (2019) need to meet that standard. And they better give us more, because Joker (2019) could be the start of something amazing. I definitely want to see more of Joker.