Todd Phillips’ "Joker" Review: The Rise of Joker

By Murtaza Ali Khan

He is often referred to as the Clown Prince of Crime, the Jester of Genocide, the Ace of Knaves, and the Harlequin of Hate. He is Batman’s greatest enemy. Yes, I am speaking of the Joker! Although, the character has undergone several iterations since its inception eight decades back in 1940, the original image, that of an extreme psychopath with genius-level intelligence and a warped, sadistic sense of humor, has somehow endured. The character’s ever increasing popularity is best evident in the cinematic portrayals of Joker by leading actors like Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and most recently by Joaquin Phoenix in Todd Phillips’ Joker.

I feel that the Todd Phillips film should have been titled The Rise of Joker because that’s what the film is all about. If I were to describe it in two words, the description would read: “Deeply Disturbing”. I recently watched the film with a crowd of millennials and I was really surprised that they were actually enjoying even the goriest parts of the film with gleeful relish. I think it’s somewhere a reflection of the world we live in today.

I believe that with Joker, Todd Phillips has really emerged as a director capable of handling some really dark stuff. Joker is a film that Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan could have never made. It really needed someone who could inject it with a fresh doze of thought and Phillips has done just that with his highly realistic treatment and unforgiving socio-political commentary critiquing the rich and the powerful who merely look down upon the weak and the needy because they can.

It’s really a one man show in many ways with Joaquin Phoenix eclipsing everything else that he has done till now, including The Master (rarely an actor is able to transform both mentally and physically to such extremes). Here is a performance that deserves all kinds of accolades they can be bestowed on a performer. It’s really no cinch to make an average viewer empathize with a murdering maniac like Joker. Perhaps, nothing is impossible for Phoenix whose mesmerizing performance harks back to Robert De Niro’s unforgettable turn in The King of Comedy. Also, there are shades of Taxi Driver and even Raging Bull.

It’s a pure masterstroke to cast De Niro in the role of a talk show host in the film. And despite the short screen time, De Niro’s influence can be felt all over the movie. If he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for The Irishman then there is a great possibility that he may get it for Joker in the supporting category (of course, he can get nominated for both and that would really be something). As for Phoenix, the only thing that can stop him from winning the Oscar is the Academy’s tendency to appear politically correct at all times.

I really hope they choose art and craft over other considerations this time. Also, I hope that Phillips’ recent remarks about the ‘woke culture’ don’t end up costing the movie during the upcoming award season (already the film’s ratings on Rotten Tomatoes have suffered). Joker is certainly not meant for the faint-hearted. It’s just the kind of a movie that can open up your old wounds or it may even heal them. Who knows? So what are waiting for? Go and watch Joker before it leaves the theaters and don’t forget to put on a happy face while you are at it!

Rating: 8.5/10

A version of this review was first published in Cafe Dissensus

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