It is difficult to assess a film starring Joaquin Phoenix, for he will always make it seem amazing. From Gladiator to Walk the Line to You Were Never Really Here, he turns every solid film into a masterpiece. Moreover, he made already superb works in The Master and Her top films of their respective years. His posture, range of tone & delivery, facial expressions, palette of mannerisms—it’s all out of this world. The best part is he remains vert strict about his chosen films; his role must be incredibly complex and difficult, the film must be novel, and he never sells out.
Joker is a film galvanized by a unique set of ideas, executed by one of the best actors of all time, assisted by a decent ensemble (including the legendary Robert De Niro), and edited by a mediocre crew. It touched upon some of the interesting topics that created the Joker out of Arthur Fleck—lack of mental health resources, loss of counseling, defunding, unaffordable medication, political apathy, social isolation, bullying—but without developing any single one in a fruitful way. The script fails to maintain the realism needed to justify the ludicrous moments (how many crimes can you commit in public before someone calls 911?). The color grading, like the cinematography, feels overly saturated. The set and costume designs are okay. And for a film directed by a comedy director and featuring several comedian characters, you’d think the dialogue would be more fresh. But it wasn’t bad either.
Overall, I recommend Joker. Although not similar to The Dark Knight, it did interestingly manifest the plight (or, perhaps, rise) of the character who was so expertly played by Heath Ledger. Some scenes were very memorable and fun. There were also flashes of unpredictable capriciousness that kept me on the edge (e.g. when Arthur’s coworkers appear at his apartment). It makes interesting points about what could turn a normal citizen into a monster—and, possibly, how to prevent it. Finally, Joaquin’s role alone merits a “must-see” status (unless you aren’t okay with an occasional gruesome murder). He will definitely win the Oscar for Best Lead Actor. Joker will win Best Score too, but it probably won’t win any others.