By Bradley Lane
Joker, the newest film from Hangover director Todd Phillips, was the subject of a plethora of main stream media attention even before its release. Countless write-ups have asserted that the film may cause copycat attacks by lonely males attracted to the film’s titular maniac. These stories warranted real world policy changes too. The AMC theatre I attended on opening night had three security guards on duty in the lobby. Despite all the media scrutiny, the film actually revealed itself to be a movie centered around vague ideas of mental healthcare, empathy and classism. Unfortunately, Joker fails to develop any of these ideas into a coherent message and without a world-class talent like Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role, Joker would be a hard film to sit through.
In Joker we are introduced to Arthur Fleck, a man out of step with the world around him. He does not understand social cues, and has trouble maintaining any meaningful relationships besides his mother, who he serves as a sort of caretaker. In addition to his mental instabilities he has a condition that forces him to laugh in times of stress, discomfort and everything in between. The film chronicles Arthur’s journey to becoming Batman’s most dangerous enemy and Gotham’s clown prince of crime.
The film’s strengths lie almost solely in presentation. The film’s cinematography is a clear homage to the film’s principle influence, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. The streets of Gotham are claustrophobic and drenched in a dingy green hue. The presentation grounds the world in a dark, moody atmosphere that creates an uncomfortable and unnerving tone. Giving context for Phoenix’s transformative performance as a man disconnected from the society, he finds himself within.
The material of the story, however, never comes to any satisfying conclusions about why Fleck becomes the killer he does. It tries to balance so many ideas in its two-hour runtime, none of them develop into more than passing mentions of societal ills. Certainly, there are promising ideas proposed, but nothing that warrants the sense of grandeur the film has with itself. It is as if Phillips tried to remake Taxi Driver but missed the larger points the ascetics of the film serve.
Joker is a gorgeously presented film that too often mistakes aesthetics for content but is certainly a fun ride. Despite all of its ills Phoenix still manages to take the audience on a wild, but vapid ride into madness. -3/5 stars