by Michael Renouf
Todd Phillips is the latest director to bring Batman’s arch enemy to the big screen with Joaquin Phoenix in scintillating form in the lead role.
Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is working as a clown and aspiring stand-up comedian in a rundown Gotham City, living with and looking after his ailing mother. After being mugged and beaten up by a gang of thugs, a co-worker gives Arthur a gun for protection and when he gets attacked on the subway, wearing his full clown make up, he has enough and uses his newly acquired firearm to kill his three assailants. The films setting is the early 1980s so you cannot help but think of the New York subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz who was also being attacked for a second time when he fought back.
It turns out that Arthur’s attackers were employees of Wayne Enterprises run by Thomas Wayne, father of Bruce who would later become Batman. Wayne senior, who is running for mayor, harshly disparages those “that have not made something of themselves” by calling them clowns during a TV interview. This remark turns Arthur into an unlikely folk hero to the downtrodden and city wide protests take hold of Gotham, a city that has cut funding for mentally unstable people like Arthur, who now has no social worker to talk to and does not know where he will get his meds. His mother believes that because she previously worked for Thomas Wayne that he will help them, until a dark secret is exposed.
We see how somebody like Arthur can unravel due to a combination of circumstance, other people’s attitudes, and his own imbalances and Phoenix captures the man who is disappearing down a rabbit hole so superbly it would not surprise me if he followed in Heath Ledger’s oversize footsteps in picking up an Oscar for his portrayal of Joker. At times his version took me back to Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, so I don’t think it is any coincidence that the veteran actor is cast as talk show host and Arthur’s hero Murray Franklin.
Phillips who is normally know for comedies such as The Hangover and War Dogs leaves plenty of room for the viewer interpretation in this very dark tale, which is not your typical comic book fair. The scariest thing about Joker?
How possible this all is.
This week’s star of the show is Joaquin Phoenix in a performance up there with his three Oscar nominations for Gladiator, Walk the Line and The Master.
3.5 out of 5.
Phoenix captures the man who is disappearing down a rabbit hole so superbly. We see how somebody like Arthur can unravel due to a combination of circumstance, other people’s attitudes, and his own imbalances.