FILM UNFILTERED – ‘Joker’ is one of the best films of the year

FILM UNFILTERED – ‘Joker’ is one of the best films of the year

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Warner Brothers and DC comics have been taking significant chances in trying to improve the quality of their cinematic offerings based on their comic book property characters. “Wonder Woman” and “Aquaman” were examples of them trying to right the ship as it were after such critically disastrous films like “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad.”

Director Todd Phillips, who is probably best known for the “Hangover” films, helms this interpretation of Batman’s longest nemesis, the villain Joker. For DC, this may be perhaps their riskiest film to date and it pays off in huge ways.

The film introduces Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) as a troubled clown for hire who also lives with and takes care of his ailing mother (Frances Conroy).

Set in the late ’70s in a downtrodden and grungy Gotham City, the mood of this film is set early and it is a somber piece that follows Arthur’s slow, trudging descent into madness. There has been a lot of criticism leading up to the release of this movie regarding the violence, of which there really isn’t that much when you compare it against your average action film. If anything, “Joker” takes a very specific look at how public assistance and a lack of funding can fail mentally unstable people like Arthur. When Arthur has a series of personal stumbling blocks put before him, he tries to cope with each situation as he sees fit, but regrettably turns to violence since that is all he knows and has seen. Complicating matters for him is a mid-movie twist that certainly shakes up the mythology of the character, before resolving it and going full steam ahead into the third act with all guns blazing.

Joaquin Phoenix turns in a masterful performance here as the tormented Arthur who slowly transforms into and becomes Joker. His physical form is both graceful and grotesque at times and there is a macabre presence that surrounds him. I don’t think I’ve seen such a physical transformation by an actor since Robert De Niro played Al Capone in 1987’s “The Untouchables.” Speaking of Robert De Niro, he actually plays an outstanding supporting role here as Murray Franklin, a late-night talk show host that Arthur is a fan of and eventually becomes a target of his rage. Fans of 1982’s “The King of Comedy” will notice the ironic similarities.

But this is a film that not only charts the origin of Joker, but also how his influence triggers a citywide riot, which in turn influences the beginning of Batman. Truthfully though, this has less to do with superheroes and men in spandex and more to do with how every human is capable of committing truly evil acts, but it’s just that some of us have self-restraint and the ability to discern right from wrong and to control our emotions, from acting on feelings of hate, disgust or revenge. “Joker” shows in many ways how we can lose our way as individuals or a society when given a tap or nudge.

The accompanying score is also moody and dark and helps set the tone throughout. The film has clear echoes to Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” and captures the civil unrest during ’70s protests like another DC film “The Watchmen” did.

“Joker” is by far one of the year’s best films. It is rated R.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Arthur Fleck who transforms into Batman’s longest nemesis in “Joker.”