Joker (2019) Movie Review

Title: Joker.
Universe: Stand-Alone.
Rated: R.
Director: Todd Phillips.
Story: Todd Phillips & Scott Silver.
Release Date: 2019.
Runtime: 122 min.
Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller.
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and many more!
Budget: $55,000,000.
Opening Weekend: $93,500,000.
Gross USA: $39,900,000.
My Overall Rating:  ∞ (10/10).

Warning: This is going to be a very long spoiler-free review!

Let me tell you something fictional characters. They are the creation of individuals like you and me. They are brought to life with a set of traits and characteristics that are or not based on other real or fictional entities that the creator might or might not have encountered throughout his life. The older these characters are, the more odds there are for a myriad of creative minds to reimagine these characters to their liking. While some succeed in remaining loyal to the original source material, others prefer giving it their own special twist, allowing the character to be built up with its own physical and psychological peculiarities. Amongst these portrayals, some fail to give the character any distinguishing attributes and stir up an uprising with fans who see it as an act desecration, an abomination that doesn’t meet anyone’s expectations.

Amidst the development of the DC Extended Universe, now baptized the Worlds of DC, rumours of a stand-alone movie around Batman’s greatest villain have been circulating. With director Todd Philips, the same man who gave us The Hangover Trilogy, attached to this project, he first co-wrote the story back in 2017 with Scott Silver and loosely based it on the classic graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke. Once Joaquin Phoenix was picked up to play the role of the Clown Prince of Gotham, word on the street was that the movie was destined to crash and burn with no one able to imagine a story without Batman that could deliver a relatively old Joker.

With ingenious and tamed marketing, from teasers to posters, the hype slowly built up as fans looked forward to a movie that was bound to defy conventional comic book movie standards as it takes inspiration on the wisdom of the great director Martin Scorsese and his classic piece Taxi Driver and countless other cinematic pieces of an era that soared in introspective character studies. As the first live-action Batman-related movie to ever dawn an R-rating while being completely disassociated from any DC universe movie, it was almost a consensus among everyone in the world to see if it could stand up to the scrutiny of critics and offer a thoughtful and insightful cinematic piece.

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Following the 76th Venice International Film Festival, it was the instant when the movie took home the Golden Lion award that the hype and buzz around this movie exploded. This didn’t, however, stop critics from stating their divisive appreciation of how mental illness and violence was handled in this movie. The past couple of years have shown that critics weren’t the voice of the people. We all came to remember that every movie is to be viewed and judged by each and every one of us, leaving it to each of us arrive with our own appreciation of cinematic pieces—which goes for pretty much any form of art.

What is Joker about? Set in the early 1980s, the party clown Arthur Fleck lives in a frail and disfavourable corner of Gotham City as he takes care of his aging mother while dealing his own personal mental health issues. In the meanwhile, with the city riddled with crime and poverty, Thomas Wayne looks to run for mayor and change the existing social stratification, a segmentation of the populace that quickly and inevitably distinguishes the rich from the poor. The story thus follows Arthur Fleck in his daily struggle with his outrageous predicament that tragically transforms him into the world’s most renown psychopath. Driven by a desire to become a stand-up comedian, his life, unfortunately, spirals in unforeseeable directions and propels him into embracing who he is rather than who society wants him to be.

In what can be weighed as one of the most compelling character studies in modern cinema, actor Joaquin Phoenix’s physical and psychological transformation to become the Joker is a jaw-dropping cinematic experience. From his laughing fits due to neurological conditions to his body mannerism that speaks louder than words, his performance is a stellar spectacle and a testament of his acting chops that seem so rare in actors nowadays. While the challenge of becoming such an incomprehensible character is not a secret to anyone, Joaquin Phoenix achieves the impossible as he extracts some of the most archetypical behaviours of the deranged maniac and embraces them with all of his passion.

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His talents are also made use in the emotionally-charged performance he delivers in every intense sequence throughout the movie. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a moment of introspection, of day-dreaming or of spontaneous realization of his countless psychological impediments. The raw emotions that are conveyed allow the viewer to not exactly empathize for the character but to understand that circumstances in which he is forced to live with, to see what kind of burden he has to lug around, to feel the pressure of uncontrollable conditions and events that brings him to internally seethe until he cracks.

While Joaquin Phoenix could have easily carried this movie to success with just his portrayal of the Joker, the story remained on par with his performance, allowing the actor to have the necessary substance at his disposition to deliver what I believe is a genuine masterpiece. The movie’s structure is centered around an unreliable narrator (Arthur Fleck/Joker) as we watch him survive the onslaught of Gotham on his self. It’s his perception of the world, among other things, that contribute to his transformation and allow the viewer to follow him in his trails. While it could be understood as his descent into madness, I prefer seeing this story has a self-revelation, an intimate act of liberation. Through existing factors that he possessed from birth, to his upbringing, to his current life events, this movie was an exposition of how he finally left the stage on which he was never ever appreciated for who he was.

Stunningly, for a movie that dared to give us a potential origin story for the Joker without first giving us Bruce Wayne/Batman, Joker ended up proving the world wrong by brilliantly handling the Dark Knight’s lore. As an Elseworlds story, it not only allowed itself to be creative on many fronts but it never dared to spit on the source material, even if Joker remains one of the only characters in the comic book world to have never had a proper origin tale that explicitly unveiled his roots. In fact, this movie offers one of the most authentic and original narratives to tie him into the canon Batman lore, giving fans no reason to discredit what it is attempting to achieve. In fact, by the end of the movie, viewers are invited to reflect on the facts as everything is actually left open-ended for interpretation.

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The cinematography by Lawrence Sher complemented by the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir strikingly sealed the deal for this movie. The colour hues observed throughout Joker, especially during the darker instances where the madness is cranked up a notch were always accompanied by intense instrumentals that invited some of the most visceral cinematic moments. It wasn’t just about getting the right angle so that viewers could sympathize with the character, it was about capturing the meticulous details that allowed you to understand the significance of the moment, the perceived power and confidence that is gained and embraced by the character.

While the movie revels in social commentaries, there are certain themes that are much more prominent and quintessential to understanding the direction of this movie. One that needs to be put on the forefront is that of mental health issues, a subject that is dear to many today and at the heart of countless debates, even in our modern society. The movie centers around one of the worse possible mental health cases and almost serves as a messiah to focus on the importance that needs to be attributed to this issue. Throughout the movie, several ideas are thoroughly and powerfully examined, from societal roles with services and resources offered to civilians, whether it is through communication or medication, to the individual’s perception of the world. One particular idea that I believe was perfectly explored was that of normality and how it is perceived by those with and without mental health issues. Leave it to Arthur Fleck to show you what expectations do to a man as they try to abide by standards set by society only for it to implode as a consequence.

Another subject that is the object of a lot of the divisive talk around this film is the violence. Anyone who knows the Joker’s character is bound to understand that the violence in which he bathes is part of his signature, it is what makes him such a threat to himself and the world. The movie takes on an approach of this violence in such an impactful way that there isn’t a single moment that felt gratuitous. Every single second of violence was delivered with a purpose, an intent to transform a character, to redefine him, to set him free and retorque, not just against the people who were always ill-intentioned but society itself.

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This also leads me to mention the role that plays Gotham in Arthur Fleck’s transformation into the Joker. The story follows a troubled man restrained by societal boundaries who seek help wherever he can to stand tall and continue to function as a cog among others in his oil-stained and crime-ridden city. While his place in it is only secure if he can play by the rules of Gotham, we are offered a cruel and agonizing point of view where society continuously rapes him into unleashing an impulsive and unmanageable reaction. It’s this exposition of his place as an individual against a society that is unable to listen to his needs that essentially contributes to his metamorphosis.

As the vessel of neurological, psychological and sociological issues, Arthur Fleck was always bound to be a ticking bomb. It’s through spontaneous laughter and dances that he could find a form of happiness and emancipation that he always sought in Gotham. He never meant to become something bigger than life but by setting himself free from the invisible restraints in his city, he became what we all know as the Joker.

If you haven’t done so already, then it is in my duty to recommend this stand-alone chef-d’oeuvre to you.

Joker (2019) is an excruciatingly exquisite character study of an iconic comic book villain that beautifully yet tragically portrays the infinitely complex layers of a man internally and externally destroyed by a city in which his self is intimately peeled away, layer by layer, until his psyche becomes one with his body.

Joker (2019) is out in theatres since October 4th, 2019.

Note: If you have read my whole review, then I thank you very much for your time and want you to know that I really appreciate it.

Have you read Batman: The Killing Joke or any Joker-centric comics?
Have you seen Joker (2019)? Will you? What did you think about it?
Share your thoughts with me!



75 thoughts on “Joker (2019) Movie Review

  1. What an awesome and powerful review Lashaan, very much enjoyed your take on Joker. It’s certainly a laudable piece of filmmaking and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is surely a memorable one and it’ll be a crime if he isn’t recognised with at the very least, an Oscar nomination.

    Joker functions successfully as a standalone character study and I applaud the way it managed to tie into the overall DC comics mythology. Alas, it’s not quite a 10/10 for me (more of an 8/8.5), as good as the film is I do feel the Joker is best defined in his conflict with Batman and whereas I’ll forever return to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight I can’t see revisiting Joker in the same way. I do of course get that this was not meant to be a “Joker” film in the traditional sense and, again, praise Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix for what they achieved.

    As for the depiction of violence, I don’t really get the controversy, there are far more violent films out there (many of which are simply gratuitous) and what we do see feels integral to what is going on. Likewise, the treatment of mental illness is truthful in the context of Fleck’s situation and the world he is trapped in.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Chris! I was very pleased that such a movie was released amongst all of the superhero content that DC and Marvel has been offering us for the past couple of years. It must’ve helped that the tone of the movie fit with what I want more from DC and that it had the qualities of a Nolan movie instead of something more family-friendly and less introspection and thought-provoking ideas.

      I definitely understand your stance on a Batman-less Joker and I definitely agree with you. Deep down, I too believe that Batman and Joker are yin and yang. And it’s Joker’s unexpected understanding of what he is to Batman that makes them so special together. The Dark Knight remains another of my special 10/10 movies for accomplishing just that. I just very much enjoyed Phillips’ and Phoenix’s interpretation of the character in this stand-alone movie.

      I’m also with you on the controversies around mental illness/violence for this movie. Phillips’ counter-argument about John Wick is perfect too. I just think people are stuck with the idea that movies/video games are a source and the cause of countless heinous acts around the world. I think they need to understand that these pieces of entertainment are not the problem. It’s the people who view/play that need to be looked into….

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great job. This movie gives you so much to talk about and it was tough for me to review it without giving away anything. This was quite a surprise and a movie that is still stuck in my head.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you so much for doing this review potentially sooner than you initially planned.
    It sounds like a great movie, and I might see it next weekend.
    You mentioned two things that made me pause.
    1. Everything was left open-ended for interpretation. Since you scored the movie 10/10, I’m assuming it was done in the right way. I’d hate to see some crucial questions go unanswered.
    2. Social commentary. It can be a quick turn-off for me. Hopefully, they will not bother me too much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really couldn’t contain it all in me for any longer. Stayed up all night to just vomit it all out and I’m glad I did. Now I feel much more lighter and hope that it will be a review enticing enough to get people to try the movie for themselves.

      Honestly, the open-ended aspect of the movie is up to the viewer. If they go back and think about how the movie was told, they can decide that everything is open-ended or they can just embrace the final act without second-guessing anything. It’s why it’s that good.

      The social commentary is very much sown into the narrative. It’s not slapping you with it since everyone sort of knows what kind of “person” the Joker is but because the movie tries to portray his character, some questions are raised as to what we do as a society about certain issues.

      Do let me know if you ever do get the chance to see it. I’m curious to see if I raised your expectations too high or this will be one of those rare “good recommendations” that you often dread hahah 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Glad to hear another voice praising the movie, I hope to see it in two days and I can’t wait 🙂 DC seems to be doing good films, when they don’t try to imitate MCU 😉

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I liked it a lot! Great performance, and a very good movie that really fits our troubled times. A bit too rational an explanation of how Joker got where he is, thus missing a bit of chaos and mystery that are so important for this character… so, perhaps not my perfect Joker, but a movie I greatly appreciate.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’m so glad to hear that, Pio!!! I know what you mean and something tells me that the chaos and mystery you seek is what you found in Ledger’s Joker. I think it’s indeed an important part of the character but also told myself that Phoenix’s Joker is only the beginning of a Joker that isn’t yet fully-formed or with all the experience of Ledger’s Joker. The “evil plans” that aren’t “planned” would totally be an angle I would have explored in a sequel… a sequel I pray won’t happen honestly. This movie needs to be a stand-alone hahah

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Well… WOW 🙂
    I was not sure I would go to see this movie once it arrived in my part of the world, since there has been an overabundance of stories drawn from graphic novel characters and/or superhero figures lately, and I’ve reached some sort of “fatigue” of the genre, but after reading your review I know I could not let this movie pass me by. It promises to be both difficult and intense, and the kind of experience that leaves a mark.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I totally understand your superhero fatigue especially when the comic book market exploded over the past few years with all the shows and movies. I do think that this movie can be appreciated even by non-superhero fans with timely and relevant subjects, a phenomenal performance by Joaquin Phoenix and dazzling cinematography. I do hope you get the chance to see it. Do let me know if you enjoyed it, Maddalena! I’m curious to see if you’ll be as impressed as I was by the end of it. 😀 Thank YOU for reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Wow, wow, wow!!! My daughter also told me she wanted to watch the movie so now I am convinced! And you are telling me that they earned more than the budget used in the opening weekend! Jackpot!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Loved your review, Lashaan, your passion really gives it another dimension! 😀

    I’m glad that the movie fulfills and even transcends your, admittedly high already, expectations. Phoenix is a true, rare master of the art, and when he was confirmed as the Joker I was pretty sure he’d be phenomenal and that the story must have a lot of merit to get him engaged. I’m glad I won’t be dissapointed 🙂 I will definitely see it at some point, and now can’t really wait to see it as soon as possible 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Ola! And yes, I believe in Phoenix’ acting skills and this is yet another one of his phenomenal performances. He remains on my list of those rare actors that I can call “actors” and not just people who are their usual selves on screen heheh I do hope you’ll have a good time with it when you get the chance to see it. I reallly want to know if you’ll enjoy this DC movie though hahahaha Do let me know if it met your expectations, even a little! 😛

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    1. I like to think that the character’s transformation was the story. Where every incident culminates until the climactic sequence that shows him externalizing his feelings through violence. I liked the close-ups that allowed such an intimate look at a character’s struggle to be “normal”, to fit in, to control his impulses (laughing or killing).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. If Scorsese were the director of this movie, it would have been much better (I am aware he is the produce here). What experience Todd Phillips has of directing drama? Not much if at all. The movie succeeded despite not having a viable story or a film content and 100 percent thanks to Phoenix and his performance. Remove Phoenix from there and what you end up with? Absolutely nothing. A star vehicle through and through.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I was indeed skeptical when I saw Todd Phillips resume after he was picked up to direct this movie. It was, however, interesting that his experience lied in brain-dead comedy movies, which are usually movies that I avoid. It was nice that Joker was a much grimmer take on comedy. I still believe that the story you seek and didn’t find in this movie is one that I found and loved within Joaquin Phoenix’s character. The whole narrative structure (introduction, rising action, climax, resolution, etc.) can be identified within him instead of outside of him. I won’t lie that anything by Scorsese would have been better, as a die-hard fan of his movies. I do hope your next cinematic experience will be much more rewarding than this was for you.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well, you are very generous to the movie when you say the narrative structure can be identified within Joker. I am sure the director would love your reply. I can only say I am thankful that most movies do not follow that “narrative structure” (we do have plenty of TV advertisements with this component already) 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. SUCH AN AMAZING, DETAILED REVIEW, Lashaan! 😍😍 I loved how you described from the very beginning! Needless to say it just made me want to watch the movie ASAP! And I WILLLLLL!! 😍😍

    PS – I LOOVED Taxi Driver! 😍😍

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  9. Joaquin Phoenix is such a obsessive actor!!! Hahaha which is totally what this role needs. I can tell from the trailer that this is totally your movie Lashaan! Of course mental illness plays a part in who Joker becomes. That seems obvious to me. It also seems they set it in the past a bit? I agree that some interpretation of long enduring characters is so shallow and poor, that when a really great reimagining comes around its bound to blow you away. It’s great that Joker was that for you. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely! One of those actors who puts in 200% into every performance. Love that about him! And yes, it was set in the past, way before Batman ever existed, which is why it’s a bit odd for hardcore fans to accept such a premise. Then again, it’s a fantastic interpretation of the character that can’t be ignored like the one Jared Leto was 😬😂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Finally I’m reading your review about this movie 😍 I was dying to read it since we watched it 😄 It’s probably one of my favourite review from you, even if I already knew how much you liked the movie, I loved how passionate you are and I loved feeling your excitement through your words 🥰

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Loved your review. Did you feel like the movie worsened the stigma against mental illness? Saw some critiques of that aspect, but i actly thought the movie lessened the stigma! Saw his descent into violence as a product of social factors (like institutional discrimination and callousness of society) instead

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment! I totally agree with you. I think people need to see the movie to the 2nd and 3rd degree. They need to understand that this isn’t about tagging people with the mental illness label and associating them to violence, it’s about understanding what they need from the society they live in to try and live with what they’re afflicted with. To ignore it will give us what we least desire from everyone and that’s where the message of the movie is at.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I appreciated the movie more than I expected. Really well done. Your review is on point. I especially liked where emphasis was placed on society’s capacity to be really mean to others and treatment of mental health issues. Sad reality that we have to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the kind words and I’m really glad that you had a very positive experience with the movie, like me. It’s nice that a movie on one of the worse villains of all time manages to sneak in a subtle message on how society plays just as big a role on an individual’s mental health than the individual himself.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This was an excellent breakdown and review! You examined the themes perfectly without sounding like you were “supporting” his behavior. And you highlighted the score!

    Liked by 1 person

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