Joaquin Phoenix is incredibly brilliant in ‘Joker’

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from "Joker," in theaters on Oct. 4. (Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

What they used to say about Hamlet can now be said about Joaquin Phoenix: there’s a method in his madness.

Darkly riveting from start to finish, “Joker” diverges from the typical comic-book film and provides a pensive, character study showing one’s descent into madness of becoming the Clown Prince of Crime.

Set in the fictitious Gotham city in 1981, social outcasts Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a clown-by-hire who strives to be a comedian, while struggling to control his mental illnesses. After being repeatedly beat down by society, he becomes less and less sane as he starts to transform into the iconic Joker.

Again, and again, we have been given similarly rehashed superhero films that do not deviate too much from the expected – Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy” was the last to be undeniably its own. What “Joker” brings to the table is a film entirely focused on a single character; I don’t think there is a single scene that he is not in. The journey from point A to point B is an incredible slow-burn that eats away at you, but becomes too much to handle for the titular character. It’s a drama that maintains a steady pace that continues to build, resulting in a crescendo that leaves the viewer astonished.

Being as focused on the Joker as it is, the success of the film lies on the shoulders of Phoenix. He is mesmerizingly brilliant. Phoenix walks the line of hysteria so finely, with every little tick and trait of a madman to show, including a uniquely freaky laugh. Matched with fantastic character development (counter development?), his sympathetic acting fully engulfs the audience to be believable that a man like this could very well exist. The dedication and effort Phoenix has given this role cannot be faked; it is a performance every actor strives to give. There is just so much potential this infamous villain has. Heath Ledger showed this and now so does Phoenix. At the very least he deserves an Oscar nomination, if not a win.

This is one dark movie. This film makes you feel discomfort, not just from the excellent tension but from the somber tone the film exudes. When the violence sporadically comes it packs a bigger punch than normal (although it is nothing over-the-top), because of how well the film builds up to it. The direction of Todd Phillips – who surprisingly also did “The Hangover” films – shows how skillful he is in a genre new to him. A heavy string-based score drones on to effectively contribute to the emotion of the film, cueing your ears of the lurking danger, while the bleak color pallet and beautiful cinematography further make Gotham look like the scum filled city it is.

Despite the clown face paint and the plethora of laughs in the film, you surely won’t be laughing during “Joker.” This intense, chilling drama is a must see, that is across the board a near-perfect film. There could not have been a better origin story for the Joker, with Phoenix being the main reason. Move over Batman, “Joker” is here to stay.


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