One of the most compelling characters in popular comic universe received a fascinating origin story in the gripping and visceral Joker, the gold standard for which so far was the Alan Moore - Brian Bolland graphic novella The Killing Joke. Anarchistic, subversive, nihilistic, unsettling, incessantly bleak, politically provocative and undeniably daring, with an incendiary stance against neoliberal capitalism and right-wing populism, and filmed with the arresting zeitgeist of 70s Hollywood seedy urban grit and existential angst, the film brilliantly worked even as a standalone without overt references to Batman and his arch-nemesis. Joaquin Phoenix, with the arduous challenge of not getting bound by Heath Ledger’s iconic turn in The Dark Knight, gave a magnetic performance as Arthur Fleck, an unfunny stand-up comedian and psychologically unstable loner who pops seven different pills to keep a frail check on his insanity, and uncontrollably cackles up due to a neurological disorder as opposed to, ironically, being happy. His job as a party clown, his frail mother (Frances Conroy) who he takes care of, the alluring next-door single mom (Zazie Beetz) he’s attracted to, and a popular talk-show host he admires (Robert De Niro, in a reversal of his turn in The King of Comedy) are the threads holding together his tenuous stability; but, they soon snap and his spectacular meltdown gets juxtaposed with the increasing anti-rich sentiments in the city, making him, inadvertently, the face and symbol of the raging and militant antifa protest movement. Along with Scorcese’s films, influences of Moore’s V for Vendetta (Guy Fawkes replaced with the Clown mask) and the rise of populist authoritarianism across the world were also perceptible in this audacious, moody and fabulously photographed film with a striking here-and-now feel.
Director: Todd Phillips
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama/Psychological Thriller