Breaking from the traditional comic book movie, “JOKER” is disturbing and yet oddly satisfying, showcasing a real world message about mental health and the wealth gap through the lens of Scorsese-style filmmaking and comic book references.
“JOKER” tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a struggling clown performer in Gotham in the early 1980’s. The film spends most of its time observing the protagonist, which doesn’t work without a stellar lead actor. In this respect, Joaqin Phoenix gives an award-worthy performance, perfectly capturing the psychotic depression that makes his character both sympathetic and scary. His creepy and unsettling laugh, combined with random dancing and quirky mannerisms, entice you into his personality. Look for Phoenix to be a frontrunner come Oscar season.
Also, unlike most of the other Batman movies, Gotham’s details become another part of the story. In “JOKER,” the city’s true character emerges through the buildings’ structures and random people’s actions in the streets.
The comic book references in the movie, while all handled well, are distracting, as we know this movie won’t connect to a future Batman project. In one scene, there’s a kid version of Bruce Wayne, which begs for a follow up, even if it looks like none may come.
Overall, “JOKER” is gory and unsettling, but it works because it needs to go that far to tell the story well. While “JOKER” may not be for everyone, it keeps you invested, revealing a world you can understand and a character you can’t keep your eyes off of, with enough intrigue about what’s real or not to require multiple viewings.