Think Movies: Joker

Think Movies: Joker

by Alan Grant
article from Friday 8, November, 2019

IN THE WORDS of Andrew Scott’s mould-shattering depiction of another villain, Jim Moriarty, “Did you miss me?”

After a period of absence, Think Movies is back and how better to return to these regular discussions of the movies than to tackle the biggest thing in theatres right now, Joker

Joker is one of those films that has arrived at an interesting time and in an interesting form. Its pre-release and much of its release period has brought with it no small amount of controversy. Some of our more hysterical, hooting and hollering, hyperbole-prone commentators have bleated inanely about how it would cause violence and negativity, with some particularly brain-dead idiots going so far as to suggest that it might cause another Aurora-type shooting (note: it was those same commentators who applied the ‘Joker’ nickname to that particular evil bastard, not himself, but go figure…) which resulted in armed police being in some theatres. 

Peculiar, is it not, that it was the same moronic panic-merchants who were so worried about guns being in cinemas who ended up causing guns to be brought into cinemas… albeit in the hands of unneeded police officers? 

Let’s get the necessary bit out of the way first. No, Joker is not an Incel propaganda piece nor is it some kind of ‘how to’ guide for the next white male American school or workplace shooter. It’s not that dangerous… nothing on a screen ever is.

Any decent appraisal of a film with the social reach and artistic impact of Joker needs to be split into two different streams; considering the film on its own merits and then a measure of the footprint it has left on the popular culture.

In purely cinematic terms, Joker is a good film with a few complications that stop it just short of being great. As almost every other critic in the business has said, quite rightly, Joaquin Phoenix is spectacular as Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian with a host of mental health and social problems whose entire world falls apart and sees the famed Batman villain rise out of the wreckage.

Phoenix’s Joker is a masterclass in physicality, tone, mannerism, and character evolution that manages what the best of anti-heroes do; doing increasingly awful things without entirely losing the sympathies, or at least logical understanding, of the audience.

There have been some wonderful depictions of the character over the years, from Jack Nicholson’s perpetually underrated version in 1989’s Batman to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning depiction in The Dark Knight – and Phoenix’s is up there with them. In fact, and this is purely a personal opinion, his Joker is only second to the best-ever… Mark Hamill’s (yep, the Luke Skywalker guy) in the Barman Arkham series of video games. He’s really that good and Joker is worth it just to see him.

His supporting cast ranges from fun to at least competent. Robert De Niro’s chat-show host and Brett Cullen’s Thomas Wayne, both of whom share the ambiguous duties of the antagonist, are both reliably effective while the rest of the ensemble simply blends together with the Gotham City setting to provide a canvass for Phoenix to create against. Being a pure character piece makes this somewhat inevitable and the skilful execution is one of the film’s biggest triumphs, while being a little unfair on Zazie Beetz’s love interest and Frances Conroy as Fleck’s mother, who deliver competent performances with not much time or space in which to do so.

Joker looks great and it’s well written and directed, Todd Philips and Scott Silver are a great writing and directing combination for any set of credits, and the production team has resisted putting the usual superhero gloss on it and has left it feeling gritty, raw, and authentic without much effort. In particular, the music choice, especially the tracks chosen to repeat throughout the picture, are very well selected and remain in the memory long after leaving the cinema.

Where Joker occasionally falls down is in pacing and tone. There are scenes that drag on too long and lessen the impact of some of the more important scenes that feel as if they’ve been unnecessarily cut.

One scene in particular, involving a very spoiler-full revelation, feels hacked to the bone without any reason while we follow Joker through some unnecessary moments in which nobody really does anything. Also, there are some lines that transgress Joker’s pitch-black sense of humour into a flat groan territory but they are fleeting and forgettable amongst an otherwise stellar script.

However, it’s important to stress that these are purely small niggles with what is a solid piece of cinema which, especially for fans of artistic character pieces, comes recommended.

Then there’s the social aspect of it… the bit mentioned at the start of this review.

It shouldn’t need to be said but here we are again! Catcher in the Rye was not the reason President Reagan was shot and isn’t why John Lennon is dead, Marilyn Manson’s music did not give rise to the Columbine shooting, and there has never been a single death or act of violence that you can attribute to a video nasty, instalment of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, or copy of American Psycho. The only things that DOOM ever killed were time and on screen demons, the WWE is responsible only for the injuries of its own performers, and, and I hope the online weirdos who were salivating sinisterly for a shooting in a showing of Joker can drag themselves away from whatever other window they have open on their browser right now for long enough to get this through their skulls – even if a shooting had occurred at a Joker screening… it wouldn’t have been the movie’s fault. 

Firstly, because that is not what the movie is about (it’s really about how society needs to do more to look out for people at its fringes) and secondly because at that point the only ones responsible for such an event are those who perpetrate it. Killers kill people, not movies.

The minute, the very second, that you allow for any form of artistic expression or creativity to be blamed for any act of violence, even a hypothetical one, then you absolve the evil bastards who do such things and you effectively hang a noose around the neck of freedom of expression and speech.

So, the next time you want to link violence and media… just don’t.

Otherwise, it’s good to be back. Now go see Joker before it’s out of theatres.

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