When did you last watch a film that gave more scenes to the antagonist than the protagonist? Where the villain’s backstory was discussed as well as what made him into that kind of a man? Director Todd Phillips’ Joker traces the backstory of Arthur Fleck who became the master villain, just to prove to the world that he exists. What were the reasons that drove him to the point that he became the leader of all Gotham Goons, and did he play a part in the creation of one of his arch-rivals, watch the movie to find out.
Joker revolves around one Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who is a forgettable person for the world, except his mother Penny (Frances Conroy). Working as a professional clown, he undergoes medication for his mental issues but when he is sacked from his job, made fun of by Murray Franklin (Robert de Niro) and later assaulted by white-collar individuals for his shortcoming, he becomes the deadly Joker, one who would lead the poor of Gotham towards a revolution of sorts, and take down his enemies in the process. It is the story of an anti-hero who plays an important part in the creation of Batman, and in the future will keep the Caped Crusader busy with his schemes that will target not just Gotham but the entire world.
Joker is perhaps the first film in the DC Universe where the antagonist is the leading character; Marvel had released Venom last year. Everything from the first frame till the last makes sense in Joker because a) everyone knows the character and b) whatever they know isn’t the complete story. Hence Todd Phillips’ flick makes you first get familiarized with Joker and then drops hints here and there regarding his psychological issues, his mother’s illness and his history which when disclosed makes him go nuts. Three-time Oscar-nominated Joaquin Phoenix makes his case strong for a fourth nomination as well as maybe a first Academy Award by bringing back a character that had already won an Oscar (Heath Ledger), but by making it his own, in his peculiar way. His signature laugh gives the audience the creeps and compels you to stay glued to the screen so that you watch the world through his eyes, and sympathize with him despite knowing that he is not the good guy. Robert de Niro’s Murray Franklin reminds one of his King of Comedy flick with Jerry Lewis where he stalked the talk show host for a segment on his show. Here, he plays the host who plays an important part in the creation of Joker, even though he doesn’t realize that till the end.
The film seems to take place in the land of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy and the first Batman where Jack Nicholson played the Clown Prince of Crime. It gives the fee of ‘Been There, Seen That’, something that could have been countered during the scriptwriting process. It is a fact that Todd Philips’ Joker aka Arthur Fleck is shown first as a delusional man living in a city infested with ‘Super Rats’ and where there is no law and order, meaning he was a product of the system, not someone whose actions resulted in the system. The scenes with Thomas Wayne were impressive with Brett Cullen excelling as the father of Bruce Wayne, however, it would have been better had someone else been cast in the role; he had already played Congressman Byron Gilley in the Batman trilogy.
Todd Phillips’ take on Joker is both brutal and painful; brutal for the audience because they have to go through Joker’s origin and painful for the actor who had to convince the audience that whatever was happening to his character was real. The trailer predicted that the film would be dark but thankfully, it wasn’t and gave the cine-goers a chance to understand the reasons why Joker was pushed towards darkness. The scene where Phoenix’s character makes a smile on his face is haunting as well as unforgettable. In some of the scenes, Joaquin Phoenix reminds the audience of Heath Ledger especially the dance on the stairs, or where he commits a crime for the first time.
Joker may not be for that audience who were convinced before entering the cinema that no one can topple Heath Ledger, but remember, Joaquin Phoenix’s elder brother River Phoenix died of an overdose in his arms when he was a young and budding star. That fact alone must have helped Joaquin Phoenix while he was preparing for the role and must have aided him in giving the performance of a lifetime. So far he has been known as Academy Award Nominee for the last 20 years; it’s time to give him the trophy and change his status for he has earned it.