Review: “Joker” takes a darker approach to the comic book movie genre

Owen Reimer, Reporter

After winning the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, Todd Philip’s “Joker” has been the talk of the town—sparking controversy and debate by critics—who claim that the movie glorifies the actions of a demented psychopath who commits murder. While it opened with a record-breaking $13.3 million, the highest ever in the month of October, but due to it’s incredibly dark and disturbing take on the character, many people are still pretty skeptical.

Set in 1981, “Joker” takes place in the impoverished and crime-ridden Gotham City where we meet Arthur Fleck: a mentally-ill party clown who suffers from a neurological disorder that forces him to laugh uncontrollably during inconvenient situations. A wannabe standup comedian, Fleck struggles in an unforgiving world, and gradually transitions from someone who is afraid of even holding a gun to someone who commits some pretty disgusting crimes.

Let’s get this out of the way: this isn’t even close to an average comic book movie. It’s ferociously gruesome and cleverly thought-provoking, making viewers contemplate what the heck they just watched. ‘”Joker” doesn’t try to be like anything else DC Comics has put out, and because of this it stands completely alone from the rest. The gritty portrait it paints of society as a whole is something I’m not used to seeing in a film about a comic book villain. 

Another thing that sets “Joker” apart is Joaquin Phoenix’s tour-de-force portrayal of the iconic villain. The three-time Academy Award nominated actor takes this movie from good to great. Not only did the man lose over 50 pounds for the role, but he somehow perfectly portrays the character’s slow descent into madness in a fashion that made me think: “Just give him the Oscar already!” His take on the part that was defined by Heath Ledger is so completely different and unique, you can’t even compare the two.

Although it’s impossible for Phoenix to not totally steal the show, the film has some pretty good performances by the likes of Robert DeNiro—who plays a talk show host named Murray Franklin—and Zazi Beetz, whose character is a single mother that develops a “relationship” with Arthur. 

“Joker” masterfully deals with an unreliable narrator (Arthur) who you realize throughout is lying to the audience with a two-faced perspective, often showing things you later realize were untrue. Because it’s in Arthur’s perspective and he’s insane, it lies to you about certain events, and that’s really part of the genius.

The one problem I have with the movie is that  “Joker” almost glorifies the actions of an unstable lunatic and shows that what he’s done is okay even though that’s obviously not the intention of the filmmakers. Phoenix stated that he wanted to create a character that no one could relate to, presumably so people would not idolize the Joker, but for some people that might not be the case. If taken in the wrong light, it shows how when given the wrong hand of cards in life, it’s okay to commit pretty egregious acts of violence. That’s obviously not the end goal, but to some less well minded people it could be seen that way.

In general “Joker” is just a wild ride. If you’re going in expecting an edgy, action-packed anti-hero movie, you might be disappointed. However, if you go in with an open mind and understand it’s a completely different take on the genre, it might just blow you away.