You need to watch Joker - my spoiler-free review
From the 5-star reviews, to the wave of controversy-baiting news stories triggering gammon across the globe, expectations have certainly been incredibly high on Joker.
When this happens, you can’t help but build it up in your head, which is exactly what I did while eating in the Chiquito next door to the cinema. “These reviews mean it has to be incredible.” With every bite of my tacos, the expectations continued to escalate. And almost always, that peaked excitement is never fully met.
Because comic book movies are difficult to pull off. Stick too closely to the source material, you get an overinflated mess of multiple storylines and far too many characters - great on printed pages, but bad for the screen. Veer too far away and you lose that essence of what makes for a good adaptation - might make for a good film, but you’re too distant from the source to name it so.
But fear not, dear reader. This is a film that not only met my expectations, but exceeded them.
Every scene flows through you with an undercurrent of tension, taking you on a heart-rending journey that will grab you by the scruff of the neck until the final credits with a beautiful uncomfortability - an anxious sensation that lies somewhere between goosebumps and that “skin crawling” feeling, as you have no idea where the story is going. How far it will descend into chaos.
Joker is not an entertaining film. It is impactful. You’re going to leave the cinema a different person.
Writer/Director Todd Philips and co-writer Scott Silver have told an astonishing story here of Arthur Fleck’s descent by lingering on details to move the audience in one path, but completely subverting expectations with effective twists. This film, much like the character himself, transcends norms and feels all the more liberated for it - sowing a tale that will leave you both shocked and mesmerised, while making you question what actually happened for years to come.
This is paired with an impeccably gritty filmic style - with sly nods to the likes of Scorcese in long-drawn-out shots and the brilliant use of a colour palette that slowly change with the content of the story, changing the way you feel with expert precision.
Plus, that soundtrack. As a music nerd, its something I always look out for and dedicate a small segment of any review to. Hildur Guðnadóttir knocks it out of the park with a perfectly nuanced, mournful and fractured. The cello scratches with pain at every key step that Fleck moves into filling the Joker’s boots.
And let’s talk about Mr J himself. I hate myself for saying the following words, but they are 100% truth - Joaquin Phoenix is the best Joker ever put to film. Better than Hamill. Better than Ledger.
To make clear, you can’t really compare/critique performances of this iconic role, as they are all truly unique (except for Jared Leto - you can definitely critique Leto). But Phoenix was nothing short of mesmerising. From the very first shot, he transcends his own personality and truly becomes the Joker. Even the classic laugh (one trope that is explained in a brilliant way that I won’t spoil here) tells a different story of pain and anguish in a way no other actor in this role has been able to capture. If we don’t see at least one nod to an Oscar nomination, I’ll be shocked.
A note on the critiques, as it was baffling to see how divisive critics have been on it.
But then you go deeper and read their criticisms - examples include Screencrush calling it “one of the most depressing comic-book movies ever made,” and The Wall Street Journal referred to the film as “both dental drill and Novocain,” in reference to the film being painful.
I hate to be that guy who disagrees with reviews, as they are critical to any dialogue. But what you’ve just explained there is exactly what this film needed to be - it is supposed to be painful. It is supposed to be raw and unflinching, even in the most horrific and depressing moments. Don’t get me wrong, ladies and gentlemen, to adapt some verbiage of Johnny Cash, this film will make you hurt, but that is the devastating beauty of Joker.
So, wave two fingers and say “bollocks” to the likes of the Daily Mail’s attempt to make you scared of incels in connection to this film - a paper who has caused significant violence through the words they print.
Joker is not some mental health-baiting ultra-violent tosh - breeding pointless cynicism and just being daring for the sake of it.
This is a fittingly impactful, visceral character study for DC’s biggest villain - a fittingly twisted moral fable about the unforeseen consequences of hate, rejection and feeling invisible.
While I can’t say it’s entertaining, I left the cinema in a stunned silence with a simple-yet-effective line to end this review.
You will struggle to find a better film than Joker this decade.