Joker ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The film establishes Arthur as a mentally ill, socially incompetent guy from the jump. The extent of the film's sympathy lies in basic human compassion and the knowledge that vulnerable people are more likely to be taken advantage of, but it does this in such a minor key that it's hard for me to think most audiences would ever identify with him, especially since Phillips doesn't quite dig deep enough into the soul of Arthur and see what makes him tick.

Instead of that kind of thorough character study, the film is more interested in the external machinations that bring Arthur to his ultimate fate. Namely, severe income inequality, lack of social services (and what is provided is swiftly cut back), and generational trauma that is explicitly stated rather than felt. This puts the film in a bind wherein it wants to explore greater social issues but is confined to the scope of a single character who was already an outcast when we met him. Since he's never integrated in society or at least makes the attempt (i.e. time spent with Betsy or Palantine in Taxi Driver), we never get much of a picture of the city at large. This absence of context is most felt during the ending, where the film takes a leap as to the Joker's impact that I just can't take because it makes no sense to me the why of it all.

If the film had ended 10 minutes earlier at a fantastically old-school shot of multiple news programs with the line "Gotham is burning," I think it would have worked much better and I would have felt more satisfied that I had just enough of what the film was offering. Alas, it goes on for not one but two more endings, which escalate in silliness and end with a resounding "eh, alright, I guess."

All in all, a decent but very flawed film. Phoenix and the techs are great, story is just about there but doesn't know when to call it a day.

Michael liked this review