Joker (2019)

joker 2019 film review

(1 star out of 5)

Joker (2019) Directed by Todd Phillips

A perfect paradigm of an anarchic dialectic narrated with the power and insubordination that cinema can give you, yet it is a futile and customarily lousy imitation of many of the iconic radical films of 70’s American cinema. Joker could pass as a trashy ‘Halloweenesque’ joke, because his shameless costume from Taxi Driver (1976) quickly emphasizes to us that we’re just watching a modernized and commercialized version of one of director Martin Scorsese’s greatest masterpieces.

This 2019 film is as abusive as its dangerous idiocy in articulating violence without context, without scrupulousness and with exacerbated frivolity. Finding a reason for this production’s existence is simple enough; evidently taking one of the most corrosive and nihilistic villains in comic book history automatically gets the attention of the most fevered superhero film fans and the willful pseudo-artistic pastiche in its filmic textures subtly fools the more serious sector of cinephilia. Specifically with those tricky features they have an impossible project to fail, even more so considering its colorful cast. As a result, this scathing film, which aims to make a somewhat intermingled exercise in popular and unpopular genres, is an economically infallible product. Joker is commercial cinema at its most presumptuous.

Todd Phillips, a director more widely known for his comedies takes the directorial helm and decides to venture into more unfamiliar territory in his cinematic spectrum, and ends up in this production that aggressively tells us that he is an incompatible filmmaker for this type of vitriolic narrative. The sensationalist atmosphere, the romanticization of chaos and the exploitative proliferation in violent ruthlessness, makes it self-evident that this is a recycled plot that has misread the powerful core of provocative socio-political filmmaking.

Woozy director Todd Phillips literally has no idea what he is doing with these cluttered instruments and his directional execution is a disgracefully inimitable debacle. Joker as a box office profitable but intellectually ineffective film is not a bad film for its obscene pretentiousness, it is a disastrous film for its tactlessness and juvenile intransigence. Perhaps I’m being too gentle and modest in just describing it as a film with a juvenile attitude, for I really feel that the boundless conceptual foolishness seems to belong to the premature intelligence of an infant.

Filmed with a wild Scorsese-esque inclination and acted with such clownish vehemence that I am compelled to say without hesitation that this film could pass as more of a madcap satire. In analyzing the purposes, the redundant finalities and the profuse anger that resonates in the imagery of this narrative, one finds oneself in a pernicious void, energetically, the film wants to gravitate a terrifying empathy for the main character.

The disturbed, anxious and mentally unstable Arthur Fleck, is an advertising clown who aspires to be a great comedian someday, yet the greenish, dull and decrepit Gotham City is so socially apathetic and felonious that it stealthily allegorically further deteriorates Arthur’s psychotic pathologies, leading him to become a revolutionary of sorts, a troublemaker who acts in cold blood against society. Let’s just say that the photocopied screenplay takes the ingenious and complexly thought-provoking formula of the masterful storytelling of Taxi Driver (1976) and crudely vulgarizes it by adapting disquieting concepts and philosophical questions with an amateurish pointlessness that borders on embarrassment. The dearth of solid ethos in this film is just one of its myriad flaws, but the one I find most reprehensible and horrendous is the failure to give the audience an ethical rumination on what they are watching. That from my critical perspective is unconscionable and hazardous for a contemporary society so desensitized by insubstantial entertainment.

The immense amount of defenders that this film has is understandable from an anthropological point of view to the 21st century generation, myself being part of that generation I can consciously specify that this production achieves with methodical rhetoric to seduce its brainless audience, however I am capable enough to discern great cinema from bad cinema, and I can confirm that this dull film belongs to a category of abhorrent trash.

The histrionic, seething passion that Joaquin Phoenix brings to his performance is objectively the only detail that momentarily vitalizes the film’s confrontational spirit, though his intricate gestures and anatomical deformities perpetually leave the character’s sinuous, deranged mind in chilling vision, nor does it cease to be quasi-comic. Amidst the psychoanalytic depths with which Phoenix approaches the character’s pathos, there is a manic interruption of shrill laughter that makes it impossible to take this drama seriously. It’s like a bizarre fusion of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the Joker.

They want to tell us that society creates psychopaths, that nightmarish bureaucracy denatures the human being, that capitalism makes us insensitive beings, that traditional rules make us mechanical. This continuity of thematic elements has been explored in cinema with genuine cinematic prowess many, many times, and here only the general structure of a coarse and enraged discourse materializes, but when the discourse ends, so does the verbiage and the specious form, leaving an abyss of questions not stimulated by the film but by universal issues already exposed with seriousness in our daily lives.

This is not a cinematic act that tries to denounce a system or attempts to synthesize the collision of socio-politics, it is a commercial act that wants to sell you that watching violence with fancy music and deft camera movements is “art”. When we all know very well that this film is anything but art.

Matteo Bedon
About Author

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them.
Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.