Directed by: Todd Phillips

Written by: Todd Phillips and Scott Silver

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Leigh Gill

Reviewed by: Brad Williamson

Genre: Drama, Comic

Score: 3/5

Relying on shock value and great acting, Joker feels like more than the sum of its parts, but you’re left feeling like something is missing, unfulfilled. Let me explain.

Phoenix is great, but he feels too restrained, which is the opposite of what the joker should be. His actions certainly aren’t, but his laugh, while in character, seems too prevalent; his most joker-like moments are while dancing, staring at someone, awkwardly conversing, and using his body’s great physical comedy and acting, but Phillips overuses the simplistic laughter. This is no fault of Phoenix but of the storyteller. On-screen everything seems spectacular, but in retrospect you feel a hole somewhere. Not in the plot, because it is seamless, and not in the character, because he was great, but in the storytelling. The tenth time Phoenix breaks into laughter just feels as if the screentime could have been better used. We get it already, maybe have him do something while laughing instead of just filming the same scene over and over?

Though the movie is great and appears nearly flawless with its great score and realistic Gotham depiction, I couldn’t help feel it just wasn’t all there. It tries to shock you, but that’s a cheap thrill, and not actually very shocking or emotionally jarring when it comes.

You’re told he’s crazy, but never really shown. Spontaneous laughter along with a mysterious past doesn’t qualify for insanity. Aside from one scene of delusions, how is Arthur unstable? He’s just a sad, violent man, not insane at all. I suppose that’s an interesting origin story, but again it seems half-assed.

I don’t want to blame one person for the incomplete feeling that filled me after watching, but I keep returning to Phillips’s direction. With great acting, source material and setting to cherry pick from, an amazing soundtrack, a story that while simple flows and makes sense, how does the film not amount to something more? Not something better because it’s a solid movie, but for such a deeply shocking and disturbing film, upon reflection it’s supremely empty. It should have been more.

The Waynes are mere props, the city is in chaos because of…rats, and he dreams of being on a famous talk show for the fame yet hates the famous and rich. Everything comes together but nothing other than the acting and score is fully realized, and that fault must fall on Phillips.

No doubt it was far better than the average superhero flick–I would even put it above Endgame, but in the end it failed to deliver on its promise and potential.

Adam McKay proved that you can go from comedy to serious drama successfully, but Phillips’s efforts to do similarly have fallen short thus far. I am cheering for him because Joker and War Dogs were solid films, but he hasn’t yet reached his directorial potential, which ultimately damaged Joker’s final vision.

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