For better or for worse, Joker is a film beset with expectations. Whether those expectations are good or bad, positive or negative -they will nonetheless sway your mind one way or the other by the time the credits roll.
Joker stands on the shoulders of Scorsese’s masterpiece ‘Taxi Driver’ and borrows a slew of its themes from ‘The King of Comedy’ and Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’. It walks a tightrope between outright ripping of those previous films and paying a respectful homage to them but director Todd Phillips does a good job with keeping its visuals and its bleak tone somewhat unique. Joaquin Phoenix is as usual a revelation here, a transformative performance filled with subtle and not-so subtle nuance.
In interviews he said he wanted to great a character nobody could identify with and he achieves that goal completely. Is Arthur just a freak of the underworld that society helps create or is he simply unhinged from a life of abuse, mental problems and plain bad luck? To its credit the film doesn’t provide any easy answers to those questions but neither does it pose any more difficult ones either.
Praise must be given to the production design and the music departments. Gotham felt like the unnamed city in Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ that also had this muddy overbearing feel to it, like the walls were closing in on everything and everyone. The musical score by Hildur Gudnadottir with its discomforting yet familiar symphonies carries the film at points. The scene in the rundown bathroom is a crucial point in the story and somehow Gudnadottir, Phoenix and Phillips managed to capture the perfect amount of absurdity in the sad joy of a violent victory.
The story doesn’t forget the franchise and comic book lore that looms heavily over it with frequent references and the Wayne family playing a prominent role in the plot. But by the half-way point, the plot becomes a pseudo-origin story with all its connections and 75+ years of history behind it and that takes a bit off the allure. The comic book side of me loved those additions but the side that went in hoping for a more ‘pure cinema’ take of an iconic character was a little disappointed.
The brutal but scant scenes of violent hit their respective marks and I wish it utilized its run-time a little better but it by the end you will be left with a memorable piece of moviemaking worthy of discussion. I don’t believe it will have the staying power or relevancy many think it will have but it just might go down as a touchstone in comic book movie history. Joker as always been a complex character that attempts to turn the mirror back on society itself and at that, the movie just about succeeds even with its flaws.
By Aakash Bakaya