Review: The Joker Delivers Visual Beauty, Acting Excellence but Lacks Subtlety


Colby Brown, Opinion Editor

Joker is a very mixed bag of a film. On one hand, Joaquin Phoenix displays Arthur Fleck’s descent into madness with grace. The film is shot beautifully with Lawrence Sher’s cinematography and Hildur Guðnadóttir score for the film is hauntingly beautiful throughout. However, the film lacks much-needed subtlety for the mature topics and themes it presents to the audience.

Many plot-twists and plot points are very obvious to see coming during the film, and if you have half a brain, you will know where the film is going. Todd Philips (Director) has a lot of passion, but his ideas need to be more refined for his future films. Spoilers throughout the rest of this review, so if you have not seen the film, I recommend that you go see the film and come back.

One of the films’ biggest problems is how the plot twists and plot points are. It is so incredibly clear that he is just imagining having a relationship with his neighbor as it was set up earlier in the film that he daydreams about his desires. The better way to do it would have been to not have the daydream about the talk show at the beginning of the film. Doing so would have made the twist that Arthur and the neighbors’ relationship was imaginary so much more impactful.

Where the film lacks a lot of subtleties again is showing all these flashbacks during the reveal of the imaginary relationship. Just have some faith that the audience will understand what is happening simply through the dialogue. This film is rated R: the audience should be mature enough to understand what is happening.

This happens yet again at the end of the film when we see Arthur in the mental hospital laughing insanely. The therapist asks what is so funny to him, and the film cuts to Bruce Wayne over his dead parents. Just have the audience infer what he is thinking about. It would have kept the conversation going after the film. It would have left the audience with some questions. Many of the best films of all time have ambiguity to their stories and endings that keep people talking about the film for years to come.

Some great positives are the way the film is shot and the set design. The film has fantastic camera angles with nice wide shots that show Gotham in all its filthy glory. Gotham is littered with trash as there is a garbage strike going on, just making the city feel more like a dump, and the camera work helps with that by having all this in the background, making the world feel lived in.

There is this dirty, worn down feel to everything, like in Arthur’s apartment where the place is a mess and is nearly falling apart. The paint is running, the wallpaper peeling, the furniture is old and musty and the fridge is disgusting and definitely unsanitary. It all adds to this great aesthetic to the film.

Joaquin Phoenix is incredible, as to be expected. He and Todd Philips reportedly spent months just crafting this character and where he would go before the camera was even turned on. The amount of dedication he gave to the role shows, especially physically with how much weight he lost for the film to show how poor Arthur is that he can barely afford food to stay alive.

The little details really make you believe Pheonix is the character. For instance, after he gets beaten, the next day for all the scenes of him walking, he walks with a limp. The way he slowly transforms from a shy introvert to a confident killer is astounding, and the film shows that process so you believe every second of it. The way he moves after he dons the makeup is with pure confidence.

Dancing is also present throughout the film as it shows how Arthur feels. After he kills the rich men, he dances in the bathroom with this peaceful yet haunting dance, and the score absolutely elevates the scene to new heights. When he is going down the stairs after he dons the makeup, he is confident and fully accepting of who he has become. Finally, at the end of the film when he is dancing on top of the car, it is a dance of pure joy, as he is finally loved by others and feels his life has meaning. The way he dances can really say a lot about what the character is feeling and makes him more complex.

Make no mistake, without Phoenix this film would not work at all, for he is the soul of this entire film.

This film is good, but it is not great. The lack of subtly and options for viewer interpretation really hold the film back from becoming the masterpiece it wants to be. Also, as stated by many, there are heavy Martin Scorsese influences here from such films like “Taxi Driver:” and “King of Comedy.” This just makes the film far less original and just a poor copy of those films, which were far better.

However, Phoenix’s performance is worth the price of admission alone, the film is gorgeous to view and the films score will stick with you for a long time. I am going to give this film a three out of five for the obvious story beats and plot twists, as well as the lack of subtlety knock this film down two points. It’s three points come from the cinematography, set design and Phoenix’s performance.