A villain’s origin story can be very interesting. A villain isn’t usually given a whole story to explain why they are who they are, they’ve traditionally just been there to serve as an antagonist to the film’s protagonist. With this film, we get a very bleak telling of the twisted story that turned Arthur Fleck into the Joker. Joker does just about everything right… it’s a great example of how to tell a villain’s story and how to cleverly tie it back to the story they are originally a part of.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck/Joker and does an incredible job of portraying the character’s slow descent into full-throttle madness. Phoenix has always been a very talented actor, the first thing I remember seeing him in is Signs; I loved him in that film and actually had a small crush on him in that role — let’s just say after seeing him in this, that crush has been forever destroyed. Having said that, I’m glad my crush for him was destroyed because he needed to look the way he does here. He should not be attractive in this film. If he came on screen looking dashing and handsome then none of this would have worked. I admire Phoenix’s dedication to the role as he really transformed himself physically (and likely mentally) for this. Not only is his appearance dead on, but his performance is near perfection.
Just his laugh alone is incredible. This film hands down has the best Joker laugh I’ve ever heard. The mannerisms and behavior is spot on too; you always have this sense that he’s one slip away from madness and Phoenix handles that descent so well. Of course the lines of dialogue do assist him and the rest of the cast in their performances. The writing is very good because it clearly lays out a twisted story with just enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. The other characters are used so well and each one has a role to play in Arthur’s progression. Speaking of the other cast members, I loved all of them, Robert De Niro and Frances Conroy especially. De Niro plays a talk show host who Arthur looks up to as comedic inspiration. He plays his character with consummate skill, with a certain playground bully-like menace. He’s the kind of famous guy that will do anything for ratings and De Niro nails it.
Frances Conroy, who I love in American Horror Story, plays Arthur’s mother. At first she comes across as a seemingly fragile older woman who really doesn’t have much of an existence anymore. We learn there’s more to her. I love what the plot does with her character and Conroy plays her very well. Dark subject matter seems to be her niche. Zazie Beetz is very good as a kind neighbor Arthur takes a liking to; I’ve never seen her in anything else but I hope she’s in more in the future. As I mentioned, this film’s story does make references to the original Batman story that the Joker is a part of. I was pleasantly surprised by a number of scenes that do this cleverly.
There’s a couple simple reasons why Joker is such a damn good film. One is that each cast member fits their role so well and they all give incredible performances. The other is that the writing lays out an interesting story with enough clever plot devices to keep things fresh. So go ahead and treat yourself by going to see Joker. But parents, please, leave the kids at home. This is no Batman and Robin, believe me.