This backstory on Joker's meteoric rise evokes empathy, compassion and yet repulsion for the notoriously evil character known as Batman's nemesis.
In this carefully crafted origin story, we get to see how the infamous DC villain, who struggled to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society became an embittered and dangerously evil person.
Director Todd Phillips delves into this detailed character study portraying Joker, whose real name is Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), as a socially awkward and increasingly desperate man living with his frail narcissistic mother Penny (Frances Conroy).
Arthur, we learn is an aspiring comedian who tries his hand as a stand-up comic, but finds the joke always seems to be on him. With several medical conditions that require a daily dosage of medications, he has a day job as a clown for-hire at a company called Ha-Ha’s. He struggles to be seen and is painfully aware that he’s invisible to most, even to his mother, who still calls him “Happy,” though he never has been.
Penny spends her days writing pleading letters to her former boss, mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne, for financial assistance, while Arthur spends his days watching the late-night talk show “Live with Murray Franklin” and dreaming of earning a spot on the program. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy and cruelty and, ultimately, betrayal, Arthur makes one bad decision after another which results in a chain reaction of escalating events in this gritty character study.
Robert De Niro plays the TV host Murray Franklin; the closest thing Arthur has to a hero and is an amalgam of real-life past hosts from Joe Franklin to Johnny Carson. Zazie Beetz plays the single mom of a 5-year-old girl who lives in the rundown apartment down the hall from the Flecks who Arthur dreams of dating. Brett Cullen stars as mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne, a lone father figure Arthur attempts to connect with while Brian Tyree Henry rounds off the cast as a hospital clerk who works at a mental institution.
It's a bold and complex movie about a fictional character seen fleetingly in the Batman films and Phillips’ portrayal is commendable as he expertly peels the layers off this complicated character who after years of ridicule and alienation from Gotham society finally seeks revenge on his tormentors.
With a two-hour plus running time, “Joker” is an exceedingly long film, but it’s engaging to watch three-time Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix’s hypnotically raw performance of Arthur Fleck in this origin story, and it’s a performance which is sure to net him yet another Oscar nomination.
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