DirkH’s review published on Letterboxd:
The hubbub around the release of this film has been considerable to say the least. It is a film we should apparently shun as it supposedly incites and promotes violence.
[insert Joker laughter here]
I'm sorry, but using this film as a platform for the age old 'seeing violence breeds violence' debate is as tiring as it is ridiculous. This is not a dangerous film. It is a character study of a dangerous, sick mind. Nothing more, nothing less.
Let's instead talk about the film. And whether it's any good. It is, but it definitely has its faults.
What is undeniably brilliant about Joker is Phoenix' total immersion in the role. I'd expect nothing less from one of my favourite actors and even though he smirks and amps up the grotesqueness of his role quite a bit, he still manages to ground Joker in some sort of tangible reality. Looking at him is at points excruciatingly uncomfortable. His laugh that resides somewhere between hysteria and complete and utter devastation is a sound that carries the film and essentially captures the nature of Joker's internal conflict. Phoenix has been better, but he still puts forth one of the most impressive and most physical performances of this year.
So with such a great central performance, what's wrong then? The problems I have are with the writing. Phillips shows he has much more up his sleeve as a director than one might think based on his filmography. He creates a gritty Gotham that feels very real somehow. His colour palette is great and he certainly shows a knack for capturing a sense of unease in the way he shoots his scenes. As a writer he and his writing partner Scott Silver unfortunately miss the mark quite a bit at points. I get that they wanted to create something that is very relatable for all the DC fans and keep the door ajar for people who don't know much about the Batman universe, but it is in those 'Batman' moments the film is at its very weakest. I would have been absolutely perfectly content if the Wayne family hadn't been mentioned at all. What Joker feels like is half a good idea. Let's dive into the mind of an iconic villain and see what we can find. Had it remained there, I think it could have been brilliant. But no, the choices the writers make sometimes feel a bit too much like 'let's not forget this is a comic book film'.
Another thing that started to become a bit grating was the seeming lack of confidence in the strength of the main character. Arthur Fleck is literally bombarded with just about all the shit the universe can throw at a person. It was just too much. The character and especially the way he is portrayed by Phoenix, don't need all that to convince us he's going to break. The absolute apotheosis of this was when Joker finds out about his past. Such a shame. I kept thinking, he would have been a hell of a lot scarier when it turned out he was actually raised in a normal family. Sometimes just showing a broken mind is enough, we don't need everything explained with the subtlety of a freight train.
So what remains is a mess. A good mess, but still a mess. I appreciate the effort to try and make something different and unique. It just felt that that was perhaps the thing it focused on too much, forgetting to focus on just being good.