By Gustavo Buenrostro
“Joker” is a film that delivers on multiple levels with its graphic violence, unnerving tone and fantastic performances.
“Joker” is about a man named Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who is trying his best to stay above water.
Events in his life cause him to spiral into the depths of his tormented mind and allow an alternative persona to be unleashed on society.
The film’s focus is Arthur and the director Todd Phillips does everything he can to show that he is the center of this film.
The cinematography is the stand out here.
In most scenes of the film, Arthur is in the center frame. Either he is already in the center or he moves to the center.
And if he is not in the center, the camera focuses on him and blurs everything around him.
This allows the audience to feel like they are inside Arthur’s mind. A good example of this is when Arthur is on a train and a couple of guys start to tease him because he starts to laugh uncontrollably.
As they come closer to him, the camera blurs out the background and the only clear person in the frame is Arthur.
It is sometimes very difficult to tell whether what is going on is actually happening or a delusion of Arthur’s.
There are no signs to let the audience know that what they are seeing is something in Arthur’s head.
The film only reveals what’s a delusion and what isn’t after the fact.
The music is also key and contributes to the film’s uneasy ambiance.
There are moments when the audience feels like Arthur will snap at any moment and the sounds of violins playing throughout key scenes intensifies those feelings.
There are other music choices that have a stark contrast to what is going on, but it still somehow works. Those differences in tone make it feel a bit more sinister.
Phoenix’s performance is absolutely an Academy award level performance.
The music intensifies the tension, but Phoenix creates it. There is a scene where his boss is yelling at him. Phoenix just smiles.
The boss’s voice is drowned out and the camera zooms in on Phoenix’s face, still smiling, but his eyes show the audience the anger and bitterness he holds.
Phoenix is a master of his craft and it shows as he is able to convey those emotions.
Other standouts include Robert De Niro who plays Murray Franklin, a host for a late night talk show in Gotham City.
It’s interesting to see De Niro in this film because “Taxi Driver” is an obvious inspiration of this film. But instead of De Niro playing the outcast, he is the one who condemns the actions of Arthur.
The scene between De Niro and Phoenix is one of the highlights of the film.
“Joker” also plays with the Batman and Joker mythology in unexpected ways and while it may make some fans of the comics angry, it works all the same.
Nothing in this film is done without reason. Making the Joker character sympathetic is great, but the film doesn’t idealize it.
The only one who does idealize the actions of Joker is Joker.
However, this film may not be for everyone. There are moments where it slows down.
Even though it still feels tense, some may take these moments in the film as just boring character stuff.
The film is also very dark. It doesn’t hold back with its violence. It not grotesque, but it is graphic, earning its R rating.
Those who are used to seeing Marvel films and expect things to be tied up with a neat little bow will surely not enjoy this film.
“Joker” is a must-watch film and it would not be surprising if it was nominated for a couple of Academy Awards.