Words Jon Clist
Based on some of the online discussion that came out for Joker, this is certainly one of the most anticipated films for 2019. There has been so much talk already about Joaquin Phoenix and his complete inhabitation of the role of Arthur Fleck. So, it was always going to be hard to not have high expectations going into this film. The praise for Phoenix is not an overestimation by any stretch. He is so unbelievably brilliant in his portrayal of this broken character and for over two hours you cannot take your eyes off him.
There have been many actors to bring something rather fresh and unique to the role of Joker and hence most DC fans have a favourite already in mind. Thanks to his Oscar winning performance Heath Ledger has certainly found his way to the top pf that list in the eyes of many cinema goers. That spot could very well be in jeopardy thanks to this rather unique approach to the story of Arthur Fleck. Phoenix, in his usual style, has completely owned the character from start to finish. This an origin story and hence we get to see a wonderful transition from the man to villain. While this is Joaquin Phoenix’s first role in a comic book film, it is easy to see why he waited until a project like this came along. (Rumour has it that he previously turned down the title role in “Doctor Strange”, as well as the chance to replace Edward Norton as the Hulk in “The Avengers”, because he was unwilling to sign on to the multi-picture deal that Marvel Studios was requiring)
As always, his attention to detail is what makes this such a stunning performance. Phoenix lost a lot of weight for his role as the Joker. In fact he lost a reported 53 pounds for the role. This impacted his health so much that filming a lot of the scenes could only be done once, with no opportunity for reshoots. The incredibly skinny and gaunt portrayal that Phoenix brings to this role is scary and yet very engaging. He is a bad guy and yet there are moments that you find yourself feeling sorry for him and even hoping he might find some level of goodness amongst the crap hand that he has been dealt. This fits well within this story, for there is no good guy and there is no hope, just a large quantity of darkness, pain and suffering. This goes against the typical Hollywood big budget cinematic outing that revolves around the eternal battle of good versus evil. This is a film that gives no hope nor love and hence no warm fuzzy at any stage and especially at the end.
In a recent interview with SFX magazine, Phoenix acknowledged that while the violence in “Joker” is “a little more visceral and raw” than films such as the Avengers series, he “didn’t have any hesitation about it. You always want it to feel real, and you want the little violence that we have to have an impact,” he said. “What happens in a lot of movies is that you get numb to it, you’re killing 40,000 people, you don’t feel it. While being a fictional story in a fictional world, you always want it to feel real. Everything that happens in this movie as far as violence goes, you feel it.”
The rest of the cast do their jobs although for the most part you don’t even notice they are there (With the exception of Robert De Niro, who is great as the over-the-top Johnny Carson styled late night talk show host. It is beautifully filmed and staged and yet you won’t notice as all eyes are on Phoenix at all times.