Oct 7, 2019

A possible Oscar for actor and picture.


Grade: A

Director: Todd Phillips (The Hangover)

Screenplay: Phillips, Scott Silver (8 Mile)

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line), Robert De Niro (Raging Bull)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 1 min

By: John DeSando

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it's a comedy.”  Arthur Fleck aka Joker (Joaquin Phoenix)

“Joker” has many faces, the two most prominent are tragedy and comedy. The tragedy is played amid murders and childhood abuse. The comedy comes intermittently, mostly as an accompaniment to the tragedy. Both modes amply identify Arthur Fleck, aka Joker, as a misfit and psycho, for whom only murder can make him feel alive.

With the exception of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, no better psychological study has come by than with Joaquin Phoenix as the troubled enemy of Batman. He may win the best-acting Oscar unless a more riveting anti-hero emerges before the end of the year.

Besides Taxi Driver, another Scorsese influence shows Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin, a talk show host, who befriends Joker, a failed stand-up comedian.  As in The King of Comedy, where De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin pursues comedian Jerry Lewis, Joker “befriends” De Niro as talk-show host. Both films are aces at showing a character on the fringe of society, in Joker’s case a nut job from neglect as an orphan, who kills Bruce Wayne’s parents and his own mother.

To see Arthur, evolve into Joker is to watch a master actor take a nerdy a-social kid to a serial killer, a fitting antagonist for Bruce Wayne, who saw Arthur murder his parents.

Beyond the physical mutation of losing a Christian Bale-like fifty pounds, Phoenix consistently uses tics and laughs to emphasize how out of the center he is. The laughing condition, occurring randomly, is an apt metaphor for his inability to tell a joke or to fit normally in society. “I just don’t want to feel so bad anymore,” Arthur whispers. It’s hard to imagine he could ever feel well given he takes five different medications.

As Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger showed, the joker character holds multitudes within his persona, enough for more than two hours of any film. Todd Philips directs an origin story about a psychopathic murderer who devolves along with the society he hates:

“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” Arthur

Do see one of the best performances of a male actor this year, but don’t take the kids.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at