"Stunning, dark and profoundly moving."
by Dorothy Billing on 18/10/19

Todd Phillips takes a DC comic book villain, and turns his story into something truly remarkable and unique, in this fresh take on a character who's often seen as one dimensional. "Joker" is a cinematic masterpiece in so many ways, drawing inspiration from Martin Scorsese's grim anti hero movies of the 70's, but bursting with imagery and style. Not to mention a dark and gritty story line which stays with you even after the credits have rolled, and Joaquin Phoenix is nothing short of excellent as the painted villain. Rather than the stereotypical laughing bad guy who is more an afterthought than the main event, Phoenix's character is fully fleshed out as a tortured soul who can only run to the dark recesses of his mind. What's so special about this particular Joker is that he's real and tangible, he is someone who's vulnerable in many ways, and he is also someone who hides behind his love of laughter making. Phoenix's character Arthur, is one which everyone can empathize with. He struggles by day as a party clown, but trawls comedy clubs at night, hoping to draw inspiration from other comedians. His reflections on society and his innermost thoughts are scribbled down in a beaten up journal. He is also a caretaker for his weak and ailing mother who he loves deeply. Not your average villain by any means. Can he make the big time? Murray Franklin, (Robert de Niro), plays the talk show host who is Arthur's lifeline to fame and recognition.

The movie opens with Arthur laughing hysterically, is he preparing for an audition? Sadly not, he's attending his weekly interview with a social worker, an unwanted necessity but his medication for his mental health problem depends on it. During the interview Arthur has a flashback, and recalls his admission into a mental hospital. When the social worker asks how he got there, an image of himself displaying violent behaviour reminds him that his life has been grim, and that behind his
lighthearted demeanor, there is unresolved trauma.

More than an in depth character study of Arthur/ the Joker, this is also a movie which sets the scene so colourfully. Billboards, cinemas, New York taxi cabs, diners with flashing signs, and the buzz of a city which never sleeps, Joker is a stylish, good looking movie too, throwing you right back to a bygone comic book era. It's Gotham city, but it's Gotham without soul. Behind the superficial shimmer, the city is rife with poverty, crime, litter and over run by rats. Thomas Wayne, the billionaire with his sights set on becoming Mayor, has promised to change all of that. It's the secondary story line running parallel to Arthur's dreams of achieving success as a stand up comedian, and Brett Cullen gives a convincing performance as the arrogant Wayne who doesn't really care for the people but merely harbours thoughts of more power and recognition.

"Joker" is definitely not for the squeamish, there's gore and violence in some scenes. But they are well placed and not gratuitous, and integral to getting to the core of Arthur's psyche. As in the best vigilante movies, Arthur is the underdog who's bullied and treated disdainfully, but he undergoes a powerful transformation, and finally gets the reaction from the world which he's been seeking. Joker has never felt stronger!

This is a wonderful, insightful movie which takes us right into the mind of the villain you perhaps never took seriously. Joker finally gets the attention he deserves. With a brooding score from Hildur Gudnadottir and classics like Send in the Clowns, Smile and That's Life, it's a compelling, if somewhat dark and disturbing look at Joker, the villain, but also the man. Listen out for Cream's White Room - a fitting tribute to his triumphant but manic state while fate awaits him.

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