There was a time when Shakespeare’s Hamlet was the most coveted and difficult role; a part so daunting and daring, it would be reserved exclusively for the most renowned actors in the world.
With the impeccable performances by Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, the role that now tests an actor to his true core is the portrayal of a criminal wearing a clown mask terrifying the streets of Gotham.
Joaquin Phoenix is the latest actor to play the title role of the unsettling character in “Joker.” Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a down-on-his-luck party clown living with his mother, Penny Fleck (Frances Conroy). Fleck tries his best to put on a smile in the dark world of Gotham’s crime, unemployment and financial ruin, but it’s easier said than done.
After a run-in with a group of teenagers who mug and beat down Fleck, just because they can, this leads Fleck to tell his therapist, “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?”
You see, Fleck isn’t a bad person by nature. His heart is in the right place, but his mind is off. While taking care of his mother, he often fantasizes about his dream of being a stand-up comedian and being a guest on his favorite talk show, hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro).
When a co-worker lends Fleck a handgun to protect himself, this is when things start to spiral out of control. Matters turn worse when Fleck’s visits to social services come to a halt due to city funding, leaving Fleck with no one to talk to and omitting access to medication.
After Fleck bombs in his latest stand-up gig, he’s offered his dream of being a guest on “Murray Franklin Live,” mostly so Franklin can use him as a punching bag. The appearance on the show is when Fleck gives the age-old adage, “He who laughs last, laughs best,” an entirely new meaning, as the lines between Fleck and the Joker become abundantly blurred.
The most impressive aspect of “Joker” is its originality. We’ve seen the Joker many times in many different forms, but we’ve never seen him like this. An origin Joker story is not only captivating and brilliant, but it gives another side to the clowned prince of crime like we’ve never seen before.
Anyone who has seen a movie or two knows Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most gifted actors of our time, but he has outdone himself here. As if his maniacal laughter and losing 50 pounds for the role weren’t enough, as scary as it sounds, Phoenix takes us inside the mind and psyche of the Joker for the first time. With no Batman to antagonize with, instead it’s the dark and bleak world beating down the Joker time and time again, and thanks to Phoenix, we feel every scratch, bruise and scar.
“Joker” will undoubtedly be a controversial film. It is violent, it is cruel, but it is also unapologetically real. It’s much less a superhero film than it is a psychological tale of a mentally disturbed man being pushed to the ground again, again and again, until he reaches the point of no return.
“Joker” is wildly engaging, it’s more than a little disturbing, it’s probably going to win Joaquin Phoenix an Oscar.