Fear and pain in the sickly spirit of vintage Scorsese
‘Joker’ is more nuanced than good vs evil – in fact it has a touching sympathy for its devil, Joaquin Phoenix
What if a comic book movie wasn’t a superhero movie? What if it was stripped of all fantasy and derring-do and recast in grim reality and the style of vintage Martin Scorsese? No heroes, no fight sequences, no damsels in distress.
Now that sounds truly fantastical. Yet here it is. Todd Phillips’s Joker is not a reboot but a reinvention of a movie genre, elevated above all by a frighteningly good performance from Joaquin Phoenix.
This Gotham City is a grimy landscape of garbage-strewn streets, rats and rampant hoodlums that resembles Taxi Driver-era New York, and is shot in the same sickly light. But you gotta laugh, right? Well, you do if you’re Arthur Fleck. He is physically compelled to do so by a neurological condition that causes him to guffaw hysterically – and usually out of context. For him, laughter is not the best medicine; he is in desperate need of the mood stabilisers dispensed by his social worker. But then she has her funding cut, signalling a sociopolitical commentary that will gradually bubble up and infuse the primary story...