Basically: Joaquin Phoenix can do no wrong.
Summary: The origin of Batman’s best friend, the Joker.
When they first announced the plans for this movie, I thought, “If [director] Todd Phillips is smart, he’ll just hire a good cinematographer and let Joaquin Phoenix do his thing.” And that’s what we got. There isn’t a definitive plot in this, just a downward spiral- you know, the final few shoves that push Arthur Fleck into becoming the Joker. This absolutely cracks into my top 5 of the year and I’d be sorely disappointed if Phoenix wasn’t recognized for his efforts.
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding this movie, I think, for the wrong reasons. Myself included, a lot of people thought this might be about gun control and accessibility- and specifically possibly to justify the actions of those responsible for mass shootings. The issues the movie actually tackles are incredibly different- how healthcare and the economy fail those with mental health problems and how society views them. It’s not angry, so much as it is neutral and it really allows the viewer to feel the weight on Arthur’s shoulders. This works on several different levels, and the tone of the movie moves effortlessly to convey each of Fleck’s several moods. It’s subtle, quiet, and psychological. The violence, although graphic, is used sparingly and provides an emphasis on Arthur’s frustration and internal struggles.
The one thing I’m not too in love with is that it felt that they were attempting to justify Arthur’s behavior rather than just explore it. They might have taken one or two steps too many at various moments to help the audience understand Arthur’s actions. What I didn’t want was to watch certain moments and think, “Ah, I feel you dude”- I didn’t want outbursts to be justified as reasonable. The good thing is, the majority of moments don’t have this to them. It’s a delicate line to toe and I understand no one is going to get a complicated, personal issue perfectly for everyone.
I’m not overly familiar with comic books in the way that other people are, but I don’t imagine there are a lot of characters where this approach would work. In the case of the Joker, there are a lot of ways to interpret why he finds violent acts so amusing. In this take, the Joker is instead soothed by acting out, which Phoenix completely internalizes- it’s entrancing to watch. I can’t think of another actor who could have pulled this off and come to think of it, I don’t think there are a lot of actors today that can completely carry the burden of a film.