DC's Iconic Villain Gets What He Deserves


Samuel Villagra-Stanton, Film Critic

Todd Phillips’ cinematic lovechild is unsettling, unnerving, and stress-inducing. However, Joker is also beautifully shot, perfectly acted, and masterfully crafted by the traditional comedy director. The drastic switch in genre is polarizing, and in the midst of a severely sensitive political climate, 2019’s Joker has taken center stage in the eye of the metaphorical storm, marred in unfortunate political controversy. This film is dangerous, dangerously misconstrued by bold headlines from both sides and extremes of media, allowing the conduction of the very antagonistic society that the film warns of. Joker does make the distinction between inciting violence and depicting violence, but creates internal conflict in the audience’s emotions toward the protagonist in his villainous turn. The sympathetic villain archetype works seamlessly in this film, creating moral ambiguity between both the villain and the audience.

Phillips, who directed The Hangover trilogy and War Dogs, tells the tragedy of Arthur Fleck, who is expertly portrayed by the legendary Joaquin Phoenix. Arthur, who lives with his mother (Frances Conroy), suffers a series of downfalls in the grotesque Gotham City. In his descent into the infamous titular character, Arthur becomes the tragic prime victim of society’s worst, prompting a thought-provoking message as to how we should conduct ourselves toward others. Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) runs for mayor in Gotham, promising to clean up the filth and save the people, or “clowns” as he calls them, from themselves. Arthur Fleck is dragged through the sludge of both the snobbery of the elite and the cruelty of the slums, crafting a perfectly tragic villain.

Joaquin Phoenix disappears in this film, becoming the tortured soul that is Arthur Fleck. His body is emaciated, shown by Phoenix’s 52 pound weight loss, making Fleck’s movements all the more unsettling. The idiosyncracies of Arthur feel fully realized, articulated beautifully by Phoenix’s portrayal. The performance is amplified by the visual beauty of this film, every shot feeling expertly crafted to feel “homemade”, as director Todd Phillips puts it. At its core, Joker is unique, though evidently inspired by Scorsese classics like The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, it [Joker] is independent and maintains its own identity. This is bolstered by the chilling score from Hildur Guðnadóttir, which, uniquely, was composed before shooting, sometimes used as a means to influence the direction of a scene. Key tracks like “Bathroom Dance” and “Call Me Joker” left the audience and myself in awe of the beautifully gritty tone, shaken to the core by the visual sequences that accompanied them. Joker is a true passion project, filled with sequences and lines that are sure to become iconic cinematic sequences that will be long remembered.

According to Todd Phillips, the project was a “year-long process” when it came to convincing Warner Brothers Studios to finance the film. Though minimally financed compared to other comic book films, surviving with a budget of $55 million, the creative drive behind the film is artistically conveyed. With a plot that will solidify Arthur as an unreliable narrator, Joker will leave you wanting more of the painfully realistic world that Phillips has created, luring the viewer in for another viewing. The master-class camera work, powerful score, and chilling performance from Joaquin Phoenix make Joker the modern visual spectacle of the decade. 2019’s Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, gets the last laugh of the year, earning a 10/10. Dou you agree with my review? Comment below and let me know what you thought of Joker.