REVIEW BY STEPH WEAVER
Gotham City, 1981. A city rife with economic disparity, and home of Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix), an aspiring stand-up comedian with a penchant for clown make-up. Joker follows Arthur’s attempts to make his way in a world that is rapidly crumbling around him, and, as a result, chaos ensues. Short version: it’s an origin story of The Joker.
Joker was co-written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver, and lists 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke and Martin Scorsese's films as two of its inspirations. The film fared exceptionally well at its premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, where it bagged the top prize of the Golden Lion, but this reviewer is here to raise the question: did it live up to the roar?
In some respects: absolutely. There is no doubt that Joaquin Phoenix is acting his multi-coloured socks off. His facial expressions, his walk, his laugh... All reflect his unswerving commitment to creating a compelling portrayal of Batman’s best-loved villain. The cinematography is also undeniably stunning: a saturated colour palette features throughout, creating a vibrant setting that is fresh out of a comic book.
When not revelling in the technicolour world being spun out before me, I have to say that I was thrown by its inconsistencies. This is Arthur Fleck’s origin story, and so the fact that he is the most developed character in the film is unsurprising. However, I was disappointed that the other inhabitants of his world – his mother, his therapist, his co-workers – were presented as mere stock characters, which resulted in jarring juxtapositions of the backdrop of a gritty biopic littered with dull, predictable dialogue. A subplot featuring a handful of famous faces from the Batman universe is frustratingly shoehorned in, and while the naturalistic camera work in the film was used to great effect, I found that there was an unnecessary abundance of long, lingering, artistic shots. In other words, I felt as though Joker played out like a beautifully crafted music video, but one that didn’t quite fit its lyrics.
In summary: aesthetically, Joker is magnificent, as is its leading man. I just wish more attention had been paid to crafting a plausible world for him to wreak havoc in.
Joker is in cinemas now.
Reviewed as Film of the Week, in partnership with Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh.