Joker Review: Raw, Violent, And Woke The Man Who Laughs

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Summary

Phoenix’s “woke” take on the anti-hero vision of the Joker is violent, raw, and hits closer to home than many are willing to admit.

Most stand-up comics are sick bastards if you think about it. I mean, I would be a bit more comforted if Anthony Jeselnik turned out to be a serial killer than if it turned out he actually was born with a redeemable soul. The field has hundreds of stories filled with drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and even suicide of failed and successful comedians. All were trying to find that happy place to make people laugh often and that means you have to look at things that most people won’t lock eyes with to get there. The Joker is not Mrs. Maisel and you wouldn’t think the toe-sucking Road Trip director Todd Phillips would be the person that comes to mind to direct a film on a “woke” culture that begins to stand up to capitalist pigs and social injustice; come to think of it, he might the right choice for the job entirely.

Joaquin Phoenix is the next man up as The Red Hood, which was last played by Jared Leto. This isn’t your Cesar Romero Joker your grandparents (or, by now, great grandparents) grew up with. Phoenix’s take is grounded, even more so than Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning take from The Dark Knight, while even giving Fleck’s stand-up routine an Andy Kaufman quality. It’s not quite a tumble down the rabbit hole into madness as he has already hit rock bottom, now the leader of the bottom-feeders has come out from hibernating, and has found some friends. His performance has been described as magnetic, which is accurate. It’s almost all sensual really. That’s combined with a performance that has an unusual amount of ascetic discipline as he stays in his lane of emotional incontinence; you simply can’t take your eyes off him, even when your first instinct is to turn away.

Essentially, Joker isn’t so much a rip off Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy as it’s a repurposing of that classic film and fitted for a storyboard from a comic book. Phillips’s vision isn’t a colorful box of cereal; in fact, its mood is drab, dull, dark, just like the Gotham many grew up with that always seemed to lay under an unlimited sheen of rain and nighttime skies. Even the Joker’s signature colors are toned down, which may be by design since the only time you seem to get a splash of color is when the Joker turns savage, and blood is splattered everywhere like a Jackson Pollack.

Many will find Joker disturbing. I find it one of the more deliberate, grounded, and disciplined comic book takes since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (without the action set pieces). The script is actually very predictable, even telegraphed, but the film is done so well the result is still a satisfying one. If anything, after the Zack Snyder decade of failures when it comes to the DC-Universe, I hope Warner Brothers takes future offerings in this direction, where villains and heroes were born from our social consciousness, and the only superpower needed is the will to do what the other man or woman won’t (and unlimited possibilities that inheriting a couple of billion dollars from your parents provides). If this is a one-off for Phoenix, that would be a shame. He might be the anti-hero people have been craving for in a film trilogy that television has mastered in recent years. Many might not want to hear that or see it on the screen, but it’s there, and not just in your theatre; It’s all over CNN at the moment. Phillips’ Joker is violent, raw, and hits closer to home than many are willing to admit.

M.N. Miller

M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.

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