This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Adam’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Joaquin’s Joker might parallel’s Ledgers, but is that moot point?
I seem to think so, as this film is hardly a Batman/Joker film as The King of Comedy being set in the DC universe. Phoenix does a fantastic job as always, making what shoddy script Todd Phillips borderline plagiarizes from Scorsese an entertaining movie to watch.
This sounds like a confusing review, but this is quite a confusing movie to review. There are interesting shots sprinkled throughout, mainly anytime Joker seems to dance around, but I wonder how much of the onus was on Phoenix to deliver a 100% commitment to the role, or Phillips’ actual intent and filmmaking talent? The majority of the shots were close ups of Phoenix: hinting at a terribly unconfident director. This is scathing, but to give Phillips some credit, I would do the same thing if I was working with a literal legend of cinema. Regardless, based on Phillips prior entries, this should come at no surprise. Comedies that rely solely on the casting by him, e.g. The Hangover and Starsky and Hutch, do not necessarily need any in depth framing- you kinda just let the funny guys do their thing.
It appears that Phillips took the same lessons from his past and committed to Phoenix’s acting. Again, this isn’t a terrible decision, but when the overall thesis of the film seems to be attempting to convey a dark yet empathetic look into an inherently mentally disturbed antihero created by the cocktail of capricious circumstances of a metropolis and its apathetic rulers, well you’d think you would have some framing outside of just Phoenix’s bloodied clown makeup.
Instead, external forces, well, remain external and underdeveloped, with shoehorned scenes of Bruce Wayne and family that feel as though Phillips was gently brushed with the hand of a DC producer to include and reluctantly executed by Phillips.
This is a pillar that really impedes this film, as the shadow of the dark knight and previous Joker iterations carried weight into my expectations and unfortunately my enjoyment of this movie. I found myself constantly having to remind myself, do not judge this film based on the baggage of my knowledge of Joker and comics. I’m not some sort of Batman pundit, to clarify, but I’ve watched enough media around the masked crusader to have a sophisticated call on who the Joker is. I finally got over giving a shit about looking at this movie “objectively” whatever that means and embraced that I should judge it within the parameters of Batman and relevant comic book movies. After all, it’s made oodles of cash based on branding alone. So yeah I’ve came to the conclusion that this is not a joker movie or a DC movie. It’s just a dark comedy layered with Batman skins. Is that bad? Maybe, that conversation is probably for another time, on the macro scale of where cinema is going, but at any rate, it lacked authority I found to be in the joker spirit.
I mean this in the way that the story is about battered man going through psychosis and ends up killing people starting riots. He happens to be a comedian too. I don’t see how this is the Joker we know, the meticulous troll who rivals Batman in intelligence. Maybe I’m an ignorant layman into Joker as a character, but that’s how I saw it.
Even if we to drop the Joker character and focus at the story at hand, its a messy narrative. Essentially Phillips wanted to find any way possible to fuck this guy up. How to torture a schizophrenic till he starts murdering people is what happened. Again is this a bad plot? Not necessarily, but the unfortunate events were tossed one after the other, as if the dice was always snake eyes. Perhaps that point, since it’s a comedy after all, but I couldn’t help but find it vacuous. The egregious point was when Phillips attempted to question the layered reality of the film, with Joker imagining his relationship with the tenant next door, but then to immediately dash the subjectively of the unreliable narrator, and give you a clear understanding of the objective reality, that it was in his head. This is boring and trite! Great films like 8 1/2 and especially relevant The King of Comedy keep you guessing the plane of reality all the way to the end. It shows Phillips’ lack of confidence in his settled motifs of an insane person.
Well I seemed to have trashed this film to oblivion, despite the “good” rating I gave it. I’ll back up to the positives. It’s easy to say Phoenix is was the best thing and worth seeing, because it’s true. I seem to always forget it’s Joaquin Phoenix in every role he’s in as he disappears into the character. From the maniacal laugh at the perfect times to the weird body morphing and manipulation, you truly witness a master doing his best at his craft. And that alone is worth watching this movie, despite the novel I said above. Oh and there was some laugh out loud parts so yeah... those were fine. It’s an entertaining movie, but nothing really special.