The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit Correspondent Tony Farinella.
If you had told me “Joker” would be the best film of 2019, I would have looked at you a little funny. Truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of comic book or superhero movies. I understand I’m in the minority here as they are extremely popular and make billions of dollars. Personally speaking, I find them hard to get into, and I have difficulty suspending my disbelief in certain cases.
So, what is different about “Joker?” Well, it does not play like a comic book movie. Instead, it plays more like a character study and drama as we learn how the Joker became the Joker, and it does so in a way which is unnerving, challenging and brutally blunt. That is how I like my movies.
Joaquin Phoenix should win an Oscar for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, and he might be well on his way after winning a Golden Globe. He lost a lot of weight for this performance, but it’s more than just the physical transformation. It’s also the looks he gives and the emotional power he brings to the role. Now a lot of controversy surrounded this film when it was released as people were worried the tone and nature was going to inspire other people to behave in a similar fashion as the Joker. One interviewer even asked Joaquin Phoenix a question about the film potentially inspiring mass shooters.
Now I understand we live in sensitive times, and I am very aware and respectful of other people’s feelings. A lot of bad things have happened over the past two decades, and we can’t ignore any of that. However, when it comes to blaming video games, television or pop culture for these things, I find it is a rather far-reaching theory. Film can be used in certain instances as a way to entertain, educate and inform us. “Joker” is merely commenting on what is happening in the world today, and this is even though it is set in 1981. You can’t help but see the parallels between what is happening in the film and what is happening in the world right now. After all this time, there is still a marked division between the haves and have-nots.
Arthur is down on his luck in life even though he is trying his best to put on a happy face. He lives with his sick mother (Frances Conroy), who is obsessed with Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen). She used to work for him and keeps writing him letters, hoping he will respond and help them out. When Arthur is out on the streets twirling signs as a clown, he gets beat up by a group of young punks, and it appears no one has much sympathy for what he endured.
He can’t catch a break with his therapy sessions either as he feels as though his therapist is not really listening to what he has to say. People also judge or feel uncomfortable around him because he has a condition where he has uncontrollable laughter, sometimes in inappropriate moments. He’s on a number of medications (seven in fact), but none of them seem to be making him very happy.
Every night, he watches the Murray Franklin Show with his mother. Robert De Niro plays Murray Franklin, the wisecracking late-night talk-show host. Arthur hopes to one day be on the show as a famous stand-up comedian. It is his dream. The film does a great job of showing how someone on that many medications can have severe side effects and difficulty figuring out what is reality and what is fiction. I enjoyed the fact the film did not spoon-feed everything to the audience. In many cases, you are not sure what is really happening or what is in Arthur’s head. The film tackles how difficult it is to get the proper funding for mental health treatment. It is about someone who has been completely ignored and rejected by society.
Arthur is doing his best to put on a happy face, but the world around him is getting more and more out of hand each and every day. Whenever he turns on the news, there is another gruesome or horrible story. It makes him wonder what his purpose in life is and what is going to become of him. How will he survive in this world? He’s doing everything he believes to be right and fair, but the world is spitting him up and chewing him out.
This is when the real Joker is revealed after Arthur’s had enough and can’t take it anymore. It’s up to the audience to decide what it all means and what’s the truth of the matter. Even Thomas Wayne can be looked at as a Trump-like figure if you want to go there. I picked up on certain things I felt director Todd Phillips was sprinkling in throughout the movie, but I don’t know his true intentions.
“Joker” is the best film of 2019 much to my surprise. It is supremely well made, intense, and it left me wanting more. The film does leave the audience with more questions than answers, but this is a good thing. We don’t need everything tied up together at the end of the film. This is not that type of movie. A lot of critics have compared it to 1970’s cinema and also “The King of Comedy” and “Taxi Driver.” It is the kind of film which is most definitely worth watching again and again because there is a lot to digest and unravel. The musical score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, which also won at the Golden Globes, really sets the dark tone and mood of “Joker.”
Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Without him, this film does not work. I have not seen a performance which stayed with me like this in a long time. At times, he’s sympathetic, and you feel empathy for him. At other times, you are disgusted by his actions and his behavior. This is not a one-dimensional character. This film took a lot of balls to make, and it also took a lot of balls on the part of Phoenix to make the choices he made in this film. “Joker” is a masterpiece of cinema, and it is easy to see why it is the first R-rated film to make one billion dollars at the box office.
* * * * out of * * * *
Blu-Ray Info: “Joker” is released on a two-disc Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 122 minutes and is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images. It comes with the Blu-ray, DVD and a digital code as well.
Video Info: “Joker” is released on 1080p High-Definition on an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The film looks absolutely perfect on Blu-ray. It has an old-school look to it while also looking crystal clear at the same time, which is exactly what the film needed to look like.
Audio Info: The audio for the film is presented in Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, English Descriptive Audio, and Dolby Digital: English, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are also in English, French, and Spanish. The audio is superb. Once again, the score by Guðnadóttir is hauntingly eerie, and spot-on for the film.
Joker: Vision & Fury
Please Welcome… Joker!
Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos
Should You Buy It?
In the end, what Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix pulled off in “Joker” is simply stunning and mesmerizing. This is not hyperbole here. This film and everyone who participated in it deserves all of the praise they have received. It is also great to see appearances by Marc Maron, Brian Tyree Henry and Bryan Callen sprinkled into the film along with a very stellar supporting performance by Robert De Niro. It would have been nice to see more of Zazie Beetz in the film, but she does a lot with her limited screen time. She’s a pivotal part of the movie, especially the more you think about it.
A lot of people can probably relate to how Arthur feels and everything he is going through in life. Of course, you don’t agree with his actions in the film, but you can understand it in the context of the film and this character’s state of mind. That is the important thing to remember here—this is a film. No one should ever go out and do any of this. I have to make that crystal clear.
You should buy this film as soon as you can! This is the kind of film you want to add to your collection because it is only going to get better with age. It is an adult drama/character piece which is perfectly done. The special features are a little light in terms of length, but maybe that was done on purpose. The filmmakers don’t want to show all of their cards. This film comes highly recommended from yours truly. It blew me away in the cinema, and I had the same reaction watching it at home.