Joker review: Joaquin Phoenix faultless in ambitious yet flawed antidote to superhero surge
Winner of Venice’s coveted Golden Lion but subject to a torrent of backlash, Todd Phillips’ Joker has polarised critical opinion.
The past week has even seen screenings in California closed over fears of inciting violence. Despite the controversy, Joker remains a boldly ambitious, yet somewhat flawed success.
This comic-book origin story features the faultless Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck (aka Joker), a failing stand-up comic who is shunned by society.
The film charts Arthur’s mental degradation towards homicidal insanity, portrayed by Phoenix with a startling intensity.
Phoenix’s commitment to the role is epitomised by his astonishing weight loss of three-and-a-half stone (22.2kg), a physical transformation which rivals that of Christian Bale in The Machinist.
Deviating from archetypal comic-book formulae, the film also succeeds in positioning itself as an antidote to the recent superhero surge.
What results is a dark and gritty character study, aptly underpinned by Hilda Guonadóttir’s brooding score and the haunting cityscapes of cinematographer Lawrence Sher.
Joker’s ambition is, however, matched by its problems.
It is clear that Philips has drawn inspiration from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, although in doing so he merely creates a synthesis of the two which lacks originality. Naturally, this also has the effect of drawing out comparisons to Scorsese’s work, by which standards it falls short.
The second half also sees Joker become overly preoccupied with expansive narrative at the expense of realism. This compromises the essence of the film and as a result its ability to engage.
Joker is impressively daring and bold, featuring a central performance to rival any I’ve seen this year. For aiming so high, it deserves considerable credit. It’s just a shame it doesn’t quite pull it off.
Star rating: ***** (3/5)