It’s the laugh that gets you first – Joaquin Phoenix’s half cackle, half rasp has all the soothing aural balm of a vulture in a blender. It’ll be ratting around in your ears long after the old-school ‘The End’ card flashes up on this unrelenting, grimly funny and brilliantly visceral reinvention of the DC supervillain.

He runs Heath Ledger paper-close as the finest screen Joker. Like everything in this drum-tight movie, the title’s lack of pronoun is no accident – it’s not the fully formed Joker being introduced here, but Arthur Fleck, a man whose ambition to tell jokes for a living is at odds with the living he scraps as a clown-for-hire on Gotham’s grimy streets. He’s on seven types of medication and has a neurological condition that causes him to laugh – okay, cackle – uncontrollably.

If Joker often feels like the product of a binge of early Scorsese movies – The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver, in particular – this character isn’t just a makeup-smeared facsimile of Robert De Niro’s traumatised Vietnam veteran. He’s the product of a society that feels painfully current. He needs help, but there’s no help out there for him.

When Arthur does finally snap, it comes in a tensely mounted subway scene – involving three bankers – that’s cleverly strobed by passing tunnels. It’s short, bloody and has incendiary consequences – an accidental spark for an Occupy-style movement across the city.

Like the Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta, Arthur’s clown makeup is adopted as the face of the protest, and as he graduates into his Joker persona he becomes a figurehead for the angry mob.

Joker smartly manoeuvres the story around the DC universe. The connective tissue is Wayne Sr. He’s an old employer of Fleck’s mum and an arrogant blowhard.Batman diehards may freak at this depiction of Bruce’s dad as the nasty face of capitalism – he’s a world away from Linus Roache in Batman Begins – but, Joker doesn’t try to upturn too many tables in the DC universe.

He may still do battle with Robert Pattinson’s Batman. It’d be brutal. By Phil De Semlyen

Todd Phillips

Oct 3

26 Sep 2019


Release DateSeptember 26, 2019
DirectorTodd Phillips
CastingJoaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz