Reporter: Joshua Brown, The Muse
Don’t let the clown on the cover fool you, this film is anything but a laugh. A slow-paced, harrowing story of a sympathetic character’s downward spiral into insanity with close to no comedic relief; a sharp change of pace from the numerous action-comedies that the comic book genre has become known for.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a clown-for-hire struggling to cope with mental illness as well as a unique condition that forces him to laugh in times of emotional stress. Unlike other R-rated comic book movies, such as Deadpool and Judge Dredd, Joker features relatively few acts of on-screen violence, which increases the raw shock and horror I felt when they do happen. Even scenes where something as little as having a gun on screen, are given such tension that it’s uniquely unsettling. The film’s uncomfortable tone is accompanied by an amazing performance by Phoenix who easily stands among the other great Joker actors such as Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Hamill.
The film is not entirely without flaw however, as there is an attempt at a romance in Joker but it is incredibly short-lived and not at all believable. The soundtrack makes frequent use of Frank Sinatra’s, “That’s Life,” to the point where it’s the only song in the soundtrack that I remember through sheer repetition. Although it is a great song, its use as an obvious metaphor for Arthur’s life whenever the going gets rough is about as subtle as a brick, and the same can be said for a lot of the film’s symbolism.
Although some sub-plots seem a bit clumsily written and the soundtrack is not incredibly memorable, the film is a welcome change of pace compared to the already-done, action gore-fests one would expect when they think of a comic book movie. Joker doesn’t desensitize its audience to violence, and an amazing performance by Phoenix keeps tensions high throughout this uncomfortable film. I give Joker an 8/10.