A grin outlook: Rashid Irani reviews Joker
It’s the role of a lifetime. Indeed in the past, screen legends such as Jack Nicholson and the late lamented Heath Ledger have portrayed the DC Comics super-villain (in Batman, 1989 and The Dark Knight, 2008, respectively) to rapturous acclaim.
Now Joaquin Phoenix, unarguably one of the finest actors of the current generation, steals the thunder from his predecessors in this standalone reinvention of the titular anti-hero.
Director Todd Phillips conveys such command over the medium that it’s difficult to accept that this is the same man who made the execrable The Hangover trilogy (2009-2013). Happily, Hollywood still springs an occasional pleasant surprise.
Set in a nightmarish Gotham City circa the early 1980s, we are right away introduced to wannabe stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix).
Disregarded and brutalised by a society on the brink of chaos, the mentally-ill Arthur eventually morphs into the Clown Prince of Crime known as Joker.
After a somewhat subdued opening segment, in which Phoenix too is unduly mannered, the narrative gains momentum and descends into a maelstrom of grotesque violence.
Drawing upon the work of the movie brat generation of the post-1970s, the director particularly references such Martin Scorsese classics as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.
Incidentally, in a clever bit of role reversal, Robert De Niro is cast as a TV talk-show host like the one played in the latter film by Jerry Lewis. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a truly miraculous, awards-worthy performance in the title role.
A multi-layered cautionary tale about the perils of living in a divisive, heartless urban jungle, Joker is a must-watch.