Todd Phillips’ Joker is an interesting take on the Clown Prince of Crime. It’s dark, depressing and down right disturbing. The way he films Gotham in the 80’s immediately has you reminiscing of Martin Scorsese‘s New York City of that same era. Back when the city was a character in the movie itself, not just a location. When you see it, you feel like you are there before it got all cleaned up and touristy.
I will be the first to admit I never expected Todd Phillips to be the right director for this movie. “The Hangover guy? No way.” But god damn did he prove me wrong. It is hands down his best looking and most intriguing film to date. All in part to his long time cinematographer Lawrence Sher. While he’s mostly known for indie movies and comedies like Garden State and I Love You, Man he’s really taken a turn to the dark side with his last two films, Godzilla King of the Monsters and this. And I gotta say, I like it!
On to the actual Joker. While I don’t think anyone will ever hold a candle to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker (sorry Jack, I still love yours as well) Joaquin Phoenix gives his all in an outstanding method performance. He pulls an almost Christian Bale-like body transformation a la The Machinist with how skinny he becomes. And in scenes with Frances Conroy, who plays his mother, he practically channels his inner Norman Bates. And I have to say there are a couple of scenes that may or may not deliberately pay homage to Ledger, in subtle ways. But to compare the two, I see it as this … with Ledger’s Joker you see the character’s Joker persona engraved in stone, but with Phoenix’s you see how it got carved. Not to say that these two Jokers are one in the same but they are similar in ways. This movie almost feels like one of those stories Ledger told about how he got those scars. Without getting the scars.
Last but not least the score. Hildur Guðnadóttir does a fantastic job of building tension throughout the film. Something she pulled off really well in Sicario: Day of the Soldado and HBO‘s Chernobyl as well. When the music plays it’s disturbing and when it’s not, it’s equally the same.
Oh I completely forgot that Scorsese was initially attached to this film as a producer. Ultimately he had to pull out due to his obligations to The Irishman. Phillips really drew great inspiration from some of Scorsese’s best work, like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy, but also cherry picked aspects from the comics like The Killing Joke. And it shows. This may very well be DC’s best film. Hopefully they keep up with these films outside of the DCEU. They may be all the better for it in the long run.
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