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Tag: Joaquin Phoenix

Editorials

Oscar Worthy Characters [Part 2]: The Joker

January 29, 2021
Joaquin Phoenix & Health Ledger

The second article looking at the only two characters where different actors have won an Oscar portraying them – Vito Corleone and the Joker. My last article focused on the character of Vito Corleone from The Godfather films, this time we’ll focus on The Joker. This character has been played by a lot of great actors – the last four film performances (not including animation) of the character were played by Oscar-winning actors. For two of those actors, the role that won them the Oscar was the Joker.

MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING FOR THE DARK KNIGHT & JOKER

Why So Serious?

Heath Ledger as The Joker // Credit: Warner Bros
Heath Ledger as The Joker // Credit: Warner Bros.

For me, The Dark Knight trilogy is the high-watermark for superhero films, with The Dark Knight being the best. Superhero films are made great not by the hero but by the villain and Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is the prime example of this. It was a stunning and memorable performance. Every scene with the Joker is fantastic and adds depth and understanding to the character. Whether it’s the Joker’s ever-changing scar-origin story, to his attack on his police convoy in which for most of it he has no lines but still conveys what is going on with the character, to the perhaps ad-libbed confused look when the hospital fails to explode, Ledger is amazing. Moving the character away from a criminal who just wants money to the agent of chaos was genius and it allowed the character to work against both Batman and the mobs he originally worked for. Ledger’s Joker became a cultural icon with some much of the design of that character becoming part of fashion and wider culture.

Can You Introduce Me As Joker?

Joaquin Phoenix as Joker // Credit: Warner Bros
Joaquin Phoenix as Joker // Credit: Warner Bros

Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is a very different character. There is much debate about this character and whether it is even meant to be the Joker, but coming from the world of comic books having radically different origin stories is perfectly normal. Joker is an origins story but not just for the Joker but for many, many villains – indeed, it tries to show that this is how many real-world problems are created. South Park did an episode in which they argued Trump’s treatment of immigrants was simply creating “jokers”, people who were treated badly and would grow up angry and have a problem with America. Phoenix’s Joker is not a supervillain, he has no powers, no henchman, he’s not even very capable of committing a crime. He is simply a damaged man with nothing to lose. This Joker deals with lies, betrayal and abuse from those closest to him and complete strangers. The wildness of this character at the end of the film is hard to watch and riveting at the same time especially when compared to his passivity in other sections of the film. Some people warned of fans copying the violence in the film but most people just seemed to copy him dancing downstairs.

Phoenix’s performance is exceptional and the character does seem to go through a transformation and become a different person by the end of the film. I would argue Phoenix is the only actor who is genuinely the lead, in the Godfather films the focus is always on Michael and in The Dark Knight obviously it’s on Batman. Whilst there are a number of great actors in Joker it is Phoenix’s film and its success or failure is on him.

Two Characters Four Oscars

Ledger as The Joker // Credit: Warner Bros.
Ledger as The Joker // Credit: Warner Bros.

So why did these characters get more than one Oscar – what do they have in common? The first thing is that they are all great performances, truly Oscar-worthy acting. Brando was already an acting legend when he played Vito and De Niro is one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. Ledger was a great talent whose life was cut tragically short and Phoenix still seems to be very much at his peak. De Niro and Brando both won Oscars for other performances and both Ledger and Phoenix have given other Oscar-worthy performances.

De Niro and Phoenix both won for origins stories. How did Vito Corleone become such a powerful figure and where did his complicated moral system come from? Things are more complicated with Joker as I don’t think Phoenix’s character is meant to be seen as the same person as any of the Jokers we’ve seen on screen, more just the origins of how you would get to be someone like the Joker.

Both characters are criminals, albeit very different types, Vito has become the archetype old fashioned Mafia boss, whereas the Joker in these two films is more like an agent of chaos, not interested in financial gain or power.

Ultimately though the reason these characters resulted in Oscar wins is a collection of a number of great artists coming together – actors, writers, directors, cinematographers and more, that is what makes these characters great. And with the Oscars, there is a great deal of luck and many of the best performances ever were not rewarded with Oscars. For prime evidence of this Al Pacino did not an Oscar for his role as Michael Corleone, who I think gives the best performance of anyone in those films.

Also Read: Oscar Worthy Characters [Part 1]: Vito Corleone

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Editorials

Batman & Joker: The Future of the DCEU

October 22, 2019
Batman Vs Joker

Joker has been a big success commercially and for the most part critically, but what does this Joker mean for the DCEU?

Warning – major spoilers for Joker below

Not A Superhero Film

Joker is many things. In my opinion, it is a great film, an intense film, a controversial film but it’s hardly a superhero film at all. There is very little of the comic book about it – no superpowers, no gadgets and absolutely no heroes. Joker has far more in common with Taxi Driver than The Dark Knight and that film is evoked often. The titular character is Arthur Fleck, a man who is struggling to survive in Gotham City. He lives with his mother who is in poor health, he works a poorly-paid job where his colleagues laugh at him when he rarely tries to reach out to anyone it does not go well. Arthur also has very serious mental health problems for which he sees a court-appointed therapist as well as taking lots of medication. At the beginning of the film, Arthur seems to be trying to stay on a positive path but that is proving increasingly difficult.

Joker without his makeup (source: indiewire.com)

The “origins” of Joker are the grim, horrible circumstances of what such a person, in reality, might have. While still cinematic Gotham is a seedy, dirty, city, a million miles from the Gotham of the Bale or Affleck films. If we were still in the Affleck-Batman world there could be no way of integrating these two characters or these two universes (the same would be true of the Nolan films). Not a successful way of doing it anyway, but they may well have tried. And while the Robert Pattison Batman is an unknown quality it would be hard to imagine a Batman that would work with this Joker. The instant the batmobile made an appearance would cause some terrible schism of the comic book universe where such a vehicle could happen and the brutal and dirty universe where such a thing is plainly ridiculous and impossible.

Jared Leto as the Joker (source: reddit.com)

Too Many Jokers

But some of you might say well we have a perfectly good Joker right here…well, a Joker anyway, in the shape of Jared Leto from Suicide Squad. I was quite forgiving of this incarnation of the Joker, yes, it was bad, but trying to follow the iconic performances of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger was going to be damn-near impossible. Leto’s IMDb page still has an Untitled Joker film in the works but such was the rancour directed at his portrayal I doubt we’ll see him reprise the role. I have heard some people suggest that Joaquin Phoenix’s character is not the Joker but rather perhaps an inspiration for him, with that being said could both Leto and Phoenix’s Joker appear in the same film? I can’t see how this would work, already comparisons between the two different portrayals have not been kind to Leto and putting him in scenes with Phoenix would only make it worse.

A Billionaire Playboy

An interesting facet of Joker that I had not at all anticipated was the anti-wealth aspect. When Fleck kills three stockbrokers many of the citizens of Gotham see someone striking back against the greedy upper class. Thomas Wayne is shown as an unsympathetic character, harbouring his own prejudices against the poor and his murder was motivated less for material gain than as a political killing. What type of figure would Bruce Wayne be in this world? There has been a meme going around for years that said if Bruce Wayne really wanted to help Gotham he would use his vast wealth in more orthodox ways. Would we get a Batman who delighted in attacking the less fortunate who had resorted to crime because of their circumstances rather than criminal insanity? Those denied essential services, with no opportunities to improve their lot, that would hardly seem heroic.

The glamorous Gotham of Christopher Nolan (source: polygon.com)

I still think of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as the pinnacle of superhero films, a genius director, a fantastic cast and the money to make it happen. For me, and many people, Batman Vs Superman was an outright disaster and I was so disillusioned I didn’t even bother with Justice League, but undeniably it has a different feel to Nolan’s films. So coming up with a whole new distinct world might be difficult, especially so as I hope Joker is quarantined and kept safe from any other DC films. Joker is a brilliant film and should be allowed to be that and not just the first part of another story.

The Next Villain

As we now know Robert Pattison is taking over the role of Batman and very recent news seems to suggest the villain will be The Riddler (played by Paul Dano) so it may be that the DCEU lets the character of the Joker rest a little while. However, I’m sure they will return to the character, after all, he is best-known and most iconic Batman villain.

Also Read: Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis

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Reviews

Review: Joker

October 4, 2019

Whether you know him as Clown Prince of Crime or the Harlequin of Hate, you know who we’re talking about. The Joker! That green hair, the pale face and the bright red lips are back because of director Todd Phillips (Due Date, The Hangover). However, the Jester of Genocide was never this human, terrifying and compelling as he’s in Joker. The man you have to thank for that: the dazzling Joaquin Phoenix.

From party clown to murderer

Welcome to Gotham City in the ’70s. It’s a time during which a massive economic and political crisis is threating the city, that’s crumbling down completely. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is one of the people who have to endure those uncertain times. He’s having mental health problems, a cigarette addiction and when his social worker won’t give him medication, life becomes even worse. His job as a clown and his ambition to become a stand-up comedian bring a little bit more laughter to his life. Most of the time way too much laughter as Fleck has to deal with his uncontrollable laughter decease. Despite his troubled and dark life, he’s trying to give his mother (Frances Conroy), with who he lives together, the best life possible. He’s cooking her food and watching her favourite show “The Murray Franklin show” together.

His life gets even darker when he is fired from his job and when his comedy act isn’t working. When people are making more and more fun of his incurable decease, something in Fleck’s mind snaps. Ready to take revenge on those who mock him and those who neglected him when he and his mother needed them the most (such as Thomas Wayne). What happens when his anger, frustration, and vengeful feelings are being enhanced by the troubled society? Well, then Fleck becomes the Joker!

Give the man an Oscar

You probably have seen joker in multiple shapes (Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger,…) and many different films (Batman, The Dark Knight,…) but no one or no film comes as close as the real thing as this one by Phillips.

The main reason is without a doubt the stunning performance from Phoenix (Walk the Line, You Were Never Really Here). Having to portray a broken, confused, desperate but also vindictive, violent and determined man must have been extremely hard to do. Phoenix pulls it off extraordinarily. He’s shy, reserved and insecure as the comedian but strong, violent and reckless as the Joker. We can still hear his hard and cruel laugh. By the end of the film, he made us feel confused, uncomfortable and astonished, all in a good way though. We certainly need to applaud Phoenix’s stunning psychical transformation.

While Phoenix does rise above everyone else, this is not a one-man show. As the entertaining, suave and typical talk show host, we see captivating and intriguing Robert De Niro (The Irishman, Silver Linings Playbook). It might not be his best work but the last scene with Phoenix makes up for that big time. That talk and everything around it shows the best of the best of both actors and will leave you breathless way after the film ended.

The motherly emotions are being brought to life by the great and captivating Conroy (American Horror Story (TV series), Mountain Rest) as the sad, confused and naïve Penny. More wonderful supporting performances come from Brett Cullen (Ghost Rider, The Dark Knight Rises) as the egocentric, powerful and forceful politician Thomas Wayne and from the fine and delighted Zazie Beetz (Lucy in the Sky, Deadpool) as Fleck’s neighbour who’s a little spark of light in his life.

More than just a comic

While watching Joker, you might even forget that this movie is based on the DC Comic characters. Phillips made such an immensely mature movie. Instead of focussing on the superhero side, Joker becomes a psychological study of a damaged and mentally ill man. Phillips wasn’t only able to create this via the brilliant acting performances but also via the impressive cinematography from Lawrence Sher (The Hangover, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) and the bombastic music from Hildur Guðnadóttir (Chernobyl (TV series), Sicario: Day of the Soldado).

Phillips and Sher already worked together during The Hangover films and their partnership is again spot on. While Phillips brings the Joker story to life by work, Sher does it with dark, enigmatic and mysterious images. Images of which you ask whether they’re happening or whether they’re just Fleck’s imagination. That very last scene is really the highlight of their corporation. If you add the grandiose, over-the-top and disturbing musical score from Guðnadóttir to it, you feel the gloomy, dark and disturbing vibe coming out of the (IMAX) screen instantly.

Who’s laughing now?

Well, pretty sure it’s director Phillips. Since the world premiere during the Toronto Film Festival, both critics and audiences fell in love with Joker. Not so hard to guess why. This brilliantly made, perfectly performed and spot-on dark character study will blow you away big time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joker (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Joke’s On You: The History of Batman’s Arch-Nemesis

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