Todd Phillips’ Joker is an unapologetic dive into the rise of one of DC Comic’s most revered villains. In an adaptation of the character, here referred to as ‘Arthur Fleck’, Joaquin Phoenix takes the titular role, following on from Jared Leto’s portrayal in Suicide Squad.
Phoenix’s performance is encapsulating as his physicality is often very disturbing and unsettling, but this only adds to the dark nature of the film – which seems designed to come across as unpleasant as possible. Phoenix also creates an iconic ‘Joker laugh’ which emerges when Arthur feels real pain or hatred, only adding to the twisted mythos of the character.
Phoenix is joined by an outstanding supporting cast, including Robert De Niro who portrays a comedian and talk show host that Arthur idolises. This may be in reference to De Niro’s work on The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, films that heavily inspired the themes and setting of Joker.
While there are ruthless scenes of violence and trauma throughout, the set dressing also serves to create a believable Gotham City, with masses of rubbish and rats running wild in the streets, as the city seems to have been forgotten by those in power – all of which only adds to realism of how a person could come to become The Joker in the worst of circumstance.
Despite the darker scenes, Joker also lends some moments to brief levity – working to the strengths of Todd Phillips, who most notably created the Hangover franchise. It is also clear that, while this movie is not a direct adaptation of any specific comic, it does take samplings from the character’s extensive lore and ties them all together in what is destined to be an instant classic.