Joker is an American psychological thriller film directed by Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver. The film is based on DC Comics characters and stars Joaquin Phoenix with Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen in supporting roles.
Set in 1981 Gotham City the film tells the story of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a professional clown who dreams of being a stand-up comedian. He lives with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy) and suffers from a disorder that causes him to laugh at inappropriate times which leaves him dependant on social services for medication.
He is obsessed with late-night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro) and develops feelings for Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz), a single mother who lives down the hallway from his and Penny’s apartment.
He is constantly beaten-up, mocked and abused but still clings on to the hope that things will get better for him until one night he makes a choice that will lead him and Gotham City down a very dark path.
Director Todd Philips draws inspiration from Martin Scorsese films such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy whilst taking some elements from the 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke (in which the Joker is an unsuccessful stand-up). However, the film doesn’t follow the comic books and stands apart from the rest of the DC Cinematic Universe allowing Philips and Scott Silver the freedom to write the Joker as a character with the emphasis being on the make-up of the man that became the Joker.
Joaquin Phoenix performance as Arthur/Joker is superb as he completely inhabits the part. Having lost weight for the role he looks thin and frail and the intensity and physicality he brings to each scene is captivating. He shows the absolute despair of Arthur’s situation and how the rich and powerful make it impossible for people like him to pick themselves up which in turn can break that person and turn them into a monster.
Whilst this is definitely Phoenix’s film, Frances Conroy and Zazie Beetz both put in strong performances alongside Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin which pays homage to his character from The King of Comedy, Rupert Pupkin, who is a comedian obsessed with a talk-show host.
Both the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir and cinematography by Lawerence Sher add to the dark, brutal and fractured theme which runs through both Arthur and Gotham City.
Joker is a powerful and original film which is elevated by Phoenix’s fantastic performance and should surely see an Oscar heading his way!