Has a recent movie come out with so much hype and so much controversy? I don’t know. Now me, I’m a big boy. I saw the movie, and I’m judging it on its own merits.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a sad man with a laundry list of mental illnesses, most prominent is he often laughs out loud for no clear reason when stressed. He’s a man who has no real friends, lives in near poverty with his elderly mother, and life keeps kicking him down. He rubs people the wrong way without trying. And if he’s in a bad place, the rest of Gotham City isn’t much better off.
Yeah,I’ll give it this much. The movie is set in the fictional Gotham City in the early 80s. Director Todd Phillips clearly loves the work of early Martin Scorsese because you can see the influence all over the place. Like Scorsese’s New York, Gotham is a cesspool of corruption. Shown as a huge sprawling urban landscape, there’s a perpetual garbage strike and a clear rich/poor divide. Heck, Robert De Niro is here as a late night talk show host.
That Scorsese influence is also all over Arthur. This Joker is a mix of both Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin. Is he sympathetic? Up to a point. While I am sure Joker will be misread by fans everywhere like so many other anti-heroes, he’s clearly got rage issues from the beginning. He’s somewhat sympathetic, but he also has problems that will lead him down a very dark path.
As such, I’m honestly don’t know how to rate this one. Phoenix is, as expected, great. The soundtrack, aside from some pop songs, sets the mood well. And Phillips’ direction does tell a good story. However, much of it seems very familiar. As I said above, this Joker is basically Bickle and Pupkin merged into one character. It’s effective, but not wholly original. But I do love me some De Niro/Scorsese…
This is generally a highly effective movie, particularly with Phoenix’s performance, so I’ll give it a 9 out of 10 make-up running like tears.
My Scorsese fanboyishness will recognize a well-made cinematic tribute.