'Joker' deconstructs, reinterprets and reconstructs the famous Batman nemesis in a grounded, realistic, dark and brooding drama film from director Todd Phillips and producer Bradley Cooper.
Both the title - in a huge yellow font that takes up the entire screen - and the old school Warner Communcations logo
in the beginning of the film, are nice touches. They set the mood, and they introduce the audience to the fictional (or alternate history, if you will) 1981 that we
are about to visit.
Joaquin Phoenix is amazing as the titular Joker. The first time he's laughing, the scene lingers, and the laughing continues, and Phoenix
relentlessly keeps going. There's an unheimlich sense of dread. The scene is tense, uneasy, and the actor is perfect. I'm not sure this was
the one role he rightfully got an Academy Award for. I'd say his turns in 'Walk the Line', 'We Own the Night', 'Two Lovers', 'The Master',
'Gladiator' and 'SpaceCamp' were all more worthy of Academy love. Of the past cinematic year, Leonardo DiCaprio reigned supreme in 'Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood', and Antonio Banderas was a delight in 'Pain and Glory'. Just my two cents, of course.
A lot of digital ink has been spilled about the pros and cons of 'Joker'. It's not a perfect film. It's not even the best Joker film (hello there, 'The Dark Knight'). The flick does take some bold creative choices, but is at times sadistically violent, morally disgusting and overall unsettling. Granted, those were the explicit intentions of its makers, and it's definitely the best thing Todd Phillips has ever made (although I'm quite fond of the silly 'Starsky & Hutch'). The supporting cast is outstanding, with special mention to Robert DeNiro who - after some questionable duds ('Dirty Grandpa', anyone?) - finally found another meaty role to sink his acting teeth in. His Murray, together with his fantastic turn in 'The Irishman', were welcome reminders of his incredible talent and broad acting range in the cinematic year of 2019.
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray comes with a disappointing selection of special features, although I was unreasonably elated with the barely 1-minute 'Becoming Joker' featurette. Elegiac, poetic, touching, and without any dialogue, it shows Joaquin Phoenix getting ready to perform as the titular Clown Prince of Crime. However, this is a movie that cries out for a director's commentary, so that's a glaring omission and a wasted opportunity. On the bright side, the disc boasts truly outstanding picture quality (the movie was shot in 5K and mastered in a 4K digital intermediate) and an aggressive bassy Atmos soundtrack that will wake up the neighbours.
'Joker' is not for everyone. It's crude, cruel, and disturbing, but lo and behold, the cast is truly amazing. Enter at your own risk.
The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray was provided by Warner Bros for review. Many thanks, lads!
Julian De Backer, 22 February 2020