Joker (2019): Can More Batman Rogues Get This Treatment?

Image result for joker poster

        “Joker” is a film that has received both a lot of hate and love. I can understand both perspectives but find myself on the liking side. I’m a huge fan of the Batman Rogues gallery and how different they all are psychologically is what makes them so compelling. Hell, they are more compelling than Batman. It is one reason Warner Brothers always casts big name celebrities in the roles. There is so much to do, even if we only get a glimpse into their psyche. This film is a deep dive into the Joker and it works.

The film was directed and written by Todd Phillips who co-wrote it with Scott Silver.

The story follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill clown for hire in Gotham City. As his life falls further apart he aspires to be a stand up comedian. Secrets tied to his past combined with social collapse in Gotham forever change him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Gotham – Gotham is so wonderfully portrayed in this film. The city is dark and grimy and you see the build up of trash (from the garbage men strike going on at the beginning of the film) contrasted with the Wayne’s version of Gotham where you have fundraisers at beautiful hotels and Wayne Manor, which is so far away from the city that they feel barely connected. You also get taste of the everyday life from the comedy clubs to Robert De Niro’s talk show host Murray. This is a version of Gotham I hope we see more of as it makes that it is a city where unless you are wealthy you will get eaten up and spit out. Which does help explain the rise of Joker and all the Batman rogues to come.

Isolation – One thing the film portrays will is isolation. Arthur Fleck doesn’t have any friends and the film follows his point of view. We see how alone he is with his mother, when he’s working and any large social event he is invisible, except for at the end when he’s embraced his new identity as the Joker.

Joker / Arthur Fleck – This is a story told from the perspective of Arthur Fleck. We don’t really see any of Gotham besides what we see from his point of view. This is great as we come to see how isolated, alone and ill he is. He’s medicated, has a tick where he laughs uncontrollably, lives with his mom who is also mentally unstable and is in a job he hates where he has no job protection or security. I wish there’d been more of a push for him to become a killer. This version of Joker is already broken and unstable and when he does kill for the first time in self-defense has no regret, but loves the attention it is getting him in the revolution taking place in Gotham. Joaquin Phoenix portrays this sociopath really well. From his dancing when he feels freedom and his lost within himself and delusions that we see through the film. This is a character completely alone and that combined with everything else just makes this character’s already unstable mind, so much worse to the point that he adopts the Joker identity.

Dreams, Delusions and the Unreliable Narrator – One of the reasons I think this film works as a Joker film is because it still gives us the unreliable mind of the Joker. Throughout the film Arthur has visions of being with his neighbor and to him they are real until reality comes crashing down on him. This brings up the possibility of this being all a lie told by the Joker at the hospital, as the final scene is him being interviewed before he kills the person interviewing him. This film is his justification, his life where he abused and bullied, the inequalities in Gotham and self-defense, in the case of his first murders. The versions of the Joker from the comic would tell some version of this, as the Joker is never responsible for anything. It is how he gaslit Harley Quinn. For me this is what works even though the writing had a lot of tell when it needed more show.

The Cons:

Themes Needed to go Deeper – There are a few themes the film touches upon, but isn’t willing to go deeper. We see wealth inequality and the detachment of the wealthy like Thomas Wayne and how insulated the rich are from the poor even as they cut their resources. Again, it is touched upon but there was so much they could have done with this. How was Arthur and his mother affording their apartment? What were some of the policies that Thomas Wayne wanted to enact? What is the history of the Waynes to Gotham? Who are the people protesting? These are all questions that would have enriched this theme. Same with lack of mental health care, Arthur loses his social worker but we never see him interact with others in his state or hear about her other clients. These are all great ideas that exist and the film briefly touches, but it needed so much more to elevate the film and better flesh out the world.

Too Much Tell, Needed More Show – This film has some dialogue that isn’t great. Joker literally blames “society” on the talk show, which is a living meme at this point given how Disney and other studios have used the vagueness of society to try and make their films appear more progressive, without actually addressing any issues. The dialogue at times feels unnatural, which is one reason why the best scenes are simply Joaquin Phoenix quietly acting. The guy truly deserves an Oscar for this role as he elevated a film with his performance. The telling rather than showing was easily my biggest issue with this film and I wish we had gotten more show.

This was a controversial film and I have friends who loved it and hated it. I really liked it and it was a film I’d highly recommend to any Scorsese fan (Phillips clearly takes inspiration from a lot of his work in how he frames Gotham and presents characters). I hope more of Batman’s rogues get this treatment as Scarecrow, Riddler, Penguin, Bane and countless others have stories worthy of the big screen. They are much more compelling than Batman (as Batman’s rogues usually are) and I hope this film inspires more of their stories to be told. This film didn’t achieve its full potential, but I appreciate what it did accomplish.

9.3 / 10. I really enjoyed this flawed film and I hope more Batman rogues get this treatment.

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): The Sociopaths Dance

The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley

“Well, whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it, in your head. You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person. ”

-Tom Ripley

“The Talented Mr. Ripley” is a film that makes me want to read the book. It is hard to pin down what the director was going for with the film since so many of the character’s are unsympathetic…the film it reminds me of most is “American Psycho,” which is a film I really like but has a much clearer message. It is a critique of corporate America through the eyes of the main character and the superficial disconnect from that lifestyle in brief. “The Talented Mr. Ripley” on the other hand is much more vague on it’s point. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a character study of Ripley or a critique of the people around him. Well, it is time for the assessment.

Warning, this review does have Spoilers.

The Pros – The cast is fantastic. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Davenport (Admiral Norrington from the “Pirates of the Caribbean Series”). All of them do well with what they are given in how the relate to one another and their relationships.

The Sociopaths – The main draw of the film is the relationship between Ripley (Damon) and Dickie Greenleaf (Law) in the first half and later Peter (Davenport) in the second half. These are the main people who use one another and are used (mostly by Ripley who is the master of it). It is worth watching just for them since that was where the script was most invested. None of them except Peter (Who is also gay and thankfully it isn’t presented as bad – He is there for those he loves (Ripley and Marge but uses everyone else) are good people. Dickie Greenleaf and Ripley are some of the more despicable characters in film and are ready to murder at the drop of a hat if they feel threatened as well as using, abusing and leaving their partners versus Peter who is more like Dexter, using his disconnect to protect Ripley his love. Also, an honorary mention to Philip Seymour Hoffman who was also clearly one of the sociopaths in the group (especially in relation to women and anyone outside of Dickie). He did great and his character actually had a fair amount of agency.

The Music – It is haunting and is good at adding tension. It adds to the scenes rather than just being background ambiance. The music was the glimpse into Ripley’s head when he didn’t have moments of honesty during his monologues.

Okay – The cinematography. It isn’t anything special. We don’t get any glimpses into the mind of Ripley from the cinematography…at least none that I found truly groundbreaking or worth noticing.

The Script – It wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t anything special. Much of the dialogue, especially for the women could be said by either of the female leads and it would change absolutely nothing.

Cons – The female characters – They were props and they had no agency throughout the entire film. The actresses are fantastic and their charisma at least made their scenes interesting…they just weren’t given anything to do and were cast aside or taken on as Ripley or the guys in control needed. I wish Paltrow’s character Marge had gotten revenge against Ripley even if she would join the Sociopaths (since we saw echoes of her being that way, the director or script writer just couldn’t commit).

The Message – I didn’t know what it was. If it was a character study of Mr. Ripley than we don’t know what he wants except the quote at the beginning of this review about him being a somebody rather than a nobody…but so often he gives that up to adopt a new identity and use another person. The ending is desolate and empty which would have been more powerful if we saw more of that empty Ripley between the roles and the characters he chose to be. Because we didn’t..the message fell flat.

I would give this movie a recommend nonetheless. It was good, especially for seeing the different types of sociopathy and the darker side of humanity, and the music creates great tension. Matt Damon, Jude Law and Jack Davenport have a chance to shine as the sociopathic dancers dancing with one another. Their characters show the different reasons that people commit wrongs against other human beings and those two characters and the relationships around Ripley are the only things that make him interesting.

I would rate it as 7.5 / 10.