Direction: Todd Phillips
Todd Phillips will be forever remembered with this stylish, bitter, and visceral Joker, a story set in Gotham City in the early 80’s that elucidates about how the downcast Arthur Fleck, magnetically played by Joaquin Phoenix, became the DC villain that we all know from the Batman saga.
Arthur, who struggles with a condition that makes him laugh compulsively during tense situations, is a punching bag of a society corrupted by money and power. Victim of severe childhood abuses, he earns a living by performing in parties as a clown or holding store signs on the streets. He lives with his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), a fragile woman who ironically calls him Happy and lives obsessed with Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen), her wealthy former boss who is now running for mayor. The latter’s son is the young Bruce Wayne, who would become Batman in the future in order to avenge the death of his parents and fight the crime in the streets.
Heavily medicated to combat mental illness, Arthur still dreams in becoming a stand up comedian, a tough task with his condition. He is an innocent victim of a bleak world and is wounded both in the heart and in the head. It’s so, so weird to see one of the saddest persons in the world cackling without control whenever in trouble. It has a disquieting effect. The bitter circumstances of life deteriorate his fragile state to the point of making him commit murder and feel good with it. It’s his instinctive and emotionless response to a poisonous society, the dangerous chant of the displaced and the dispossessed. The malevolent act has the support of the miserable people of Gotham, who starts a revolution against the corrupt system.
Arthur’s creepy side makes him unpredictable and his tortuous mind has lots of room for imagination. With a killer gaze and that broad smile in his face, he premeditates his next step: victimize Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), the popular host of a talk show who contributes to his downfall by making fun of him on the TV.
Simultaneously gripping and unsettling, Joker is a win for Todd Phillips, an unremarkable director until now, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver (The Fighter; 8 Mile) and had dedicated his directorial career to comedies such as the Hangover trilogy (2009,2011,2013) and War Dogs (2016). Without a hint of hesitation, he injects mordantly funny moments among the torrents of sadness and makes the film thrive both as a noir drama and a clever psychological thriller. Digging deep into his role, Phoenix was the secret weapon required to make us understand the human pain behind the Joker’s wickedness.