Reviews, thoughts, impressions, links, suggestions from a movie lover (English and Italian)
Even if the story is well-known – the good-hearted loser revenging the cruelty of a merciless society – J. Phoenix performance gives the character a decaying romantic touch that makes the movie: Reduced to a skeletal state … by a diet of nicotine and pain, Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck is a tragicomic nightmare, a beleaguered, sign-twirling clown who suffers from a medical condition that turns his internal screams into cackling laughter. Bullied, abused and increasingly enraged, Arthur lives with his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), in Gotham, a city befouled by garbage strikes and overrun by mutant rats. He dreams of becoming a standup comic but has no idea what other people find “funny” – a lethal combination. (An ace turn from Joaquin Phoenix, M. Kermode, Observer)
The slightly Elizabethan revenge tragedy plot, with an antihero borrowed from the comics, works, in between noir and comedy. After humiliation and despair become too much to bear, Arthur gets a gun and finds out that his talent is not for comedy but for violence. The film turning point is the Joker’s terrible revenge bloodbath on the subway: it could be Act III in a Shakesperian tragedy. As the movie unrolls, you sympathize for the sad clown, feel angry like him and, in a way, you are willing to justify his violence escalation climaxing in the final fury at the live TV talk-show hosted by vulgar Murray Franklin, Act V in the Shakespearian structure (Robert De Niro, obvious homage to the Scorsese/De Niro classics The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver).
Even the stunning cityscape of the Gotham/NYC of the 80s works: There is great production design by Mark Friedberg, some tremendous period cityscape images by cinematographer Lawrence Sher, and a strong performance by Phoenix… (The most disappointing film of the year, Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian). What is pretty week is the political part: the ‘rich vs poor’ story is obvious and the Jocker as an inspirational source for the mass revolt against the corrupt politicians, his supposed triggering of an anti-capitalist, anti-rich movement with protesters dressing as clowns, is childlike.
I have been surprised by the diverging reviews, even from critics of the same paper: is this an ace turn from Joaquin Phoenix or the most disappointing film of the year? The Guardian critics should decide. Again: The strenuous effort of Phoenix’s performance … becomes exhausting to behold. Get a load of me, he seems to say, and the load is almost too much to bear (Anthony Lane, New Yorker, see Full Review). This is a truly nightmarish vision of late-era capitalism – arguably the best social horror film since Get Out – and Joaquin Phoenix is magnetic in it (Philip De Semlyen, Time Out, Full Review).
Movies, anyway, are just an opinion.