Movie Review – Joker

TL;DR –  A hollow film trying to say something but knowing it actually has nothing to say and hoping you will be distracted by Phoenix’s performance not to notice.  

Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars

Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene

Joker. Image Credit: Warner Bros.


It has been a couple of days since I watched Joker and instead of writing the review right away I needed to let this film sit a percolate in my brain for a bit before I started writing. Part of that is because I have talked to a lot of people because there are a lot of different experiences with the film, so I wanted to make sure I knew the different perspectives before I dived in. But also because there are aspects of the film I quite like and those that I really don’t and I needed to work through that juxtaposition.    

So to set the scene, in the 1980s Gotham City is beset by a garbage strike and tempers are starting to flare as the piles of rubbish start to accumulate. On the outskirts of the city lives Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who works as a clown during the day and looks after his housebound mother Penny (Frances Conroy) in the evenings. Which would be difficult enough for any person but Arthur suffers from a neurological condition that required multiple types of medication and still causes spontaneous uncontrollable laughter. Things are manageable for Arthur but as his life starts to unravel so does he.

Joker. Image Credit: Warner Bros.
One thing that is clear is that Joaquin Phoenix is giving an amazing performance . Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Before we look at the things that I don’t think worked as well for Joker, at least for me, I do want to take a moment to explore some of the factors of the film that was outstanding. The first has to be Joaquin Phoenix’s performance. While I have issues with the story and the character arc, none of that takes away the sheer amazement of watching him fully encompass the character. I would also add Frances Conroy’s performance to this praise as well. This is really important because, if that had not worked, then nothing in this film would be salvageable. To add to this while I think they overuse Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting cello music, it is fundamentally evocative. Of course, it also does also need to be said that all of the set dressers and designers that took the world back to the 1980s deserve all the credit they are getting.

Now while I am here, as an industry I do think that we need to have a real conversation about actors emaciating themselves for roles because it is not healthy for a body to be like that. We champion actors when they go through huge body transformations both large and small but those bodies are at best unsustainable and at worst doing damage to achieve. Sooner or later someone is going to do real damage to themselves in this drive to outdo each film and we will only have ourselves to blame. To add to this, it could have been achieved through other measures.             

Joker. Image Credit: Warner Bros.
It wants to say something about mental health, but it doesn’t quite know what it is that it wants to say. Image Credit: Warner Bros.

For me personally where this film falls down is in its story that frankly had me feeling hollow by the second act and nothing remedied that in the rest of the run time. The main feeling that I get is that this is a film that wants to say a lot of things. Things about the treatment of people with mental health, things about the rich-poor divide, things about comic book films, and more, but it does not know what it is that it wants to say. This leads to cases of the film wanting to have its cake and eat it too. Like with the subplot with the Wayne family. Joker continues the recent tradition in Batman lore in problematizing the father that Bruce Wayne (Dante Pereira-Olson) idolises. Here is the symbol of inequality, highlighted by the fact that Penny used to work for Thomas (Brett Cullen) and is now cruelly ignoring them. However, by the end of the film they can’t quite commit to this narrative and try to walk it back.

Also the film clearly wants to say something on mental health but the only concrete thing it can say is that if people don’t get their medication they become violent. This continues to reinforce in media the stereotype prevalent in some news circles that people with mental health issues are violent and need to be subdued. So instead of, we should be giving people medication because it is the right thing to do, it is we are giving them medication so they don’t shot me on the subway. Well there is no way to spin that as being anything but really sucky. It is also really disappointing to see most of the comedic moments in the film were also hitting down which complicated this even further.   

Joker. Image Credit: Warner Bros.
Unfortuantly I walked out of this film feeling hollow and exhausted. Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Finally, there were these moments throughout the film that really pulled me out of the narrative. For example, having all of those drunk Wall St-lite guys suddenly all knowing the words and tune for Send in the Clowns or the fact that there is no way TV stations today, let alone in the 1980s would air that video clip in its entirety or there being no security at Wayne manor after a series of high profile murders. There was also a sense of inevitability of some plot points the moment they appeared. Like with Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), where you could chart his entire endpoint from his first introduction.

In the end, do we recommend Joker? Look for me personally I just can’t. I know a lot of people have really loved this film, but unfortunately I am not one of them. It felt like a film that was afraid of its shadow and ended up hiding behind a performance. I am glad if you enjoyed it but I walked out of the cinema feeling hollow and exhausted. I get after Suicide Squad that there needed to be a course chance on the character of the Joker, and this is a much better film than that mess, I just wish that had the convictions to actually say something. At the very least, I hope this film got a whole lot of young people to search out who Charlie Chaplin is, so I’ll take that if nothing else.        

By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.

Have you watched Joker?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.

Credits –
All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Joker
Directed by
– Todd Phillips
Written by – Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
Based on – Characters created by DC Comics
Music by – Hildur Guðnadóttir
Cinematography by – Lawrence Sher
Edited by – Jeff Groth
Production/Distribution Companies – DC Films, Village Roadshow Pictures, Bron Creative, Joint Effort & Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring – Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Josh Pais, Rocco Luna, Marc Maron, Sondra James, Murphy Guyer, Douglas Hodge, Dante Pereira-Olson, Carrie Louise Putrello, Sharon Washington, Hannah Gross, Frank Wood & Brian Tyree Henry
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R


3 thoughts on “Movie Review – Joker

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