The Oscars like to honor the person who acted the most, not necessarily the best. Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck/Joker certainly acts a lot. I watched Taxi Driver for the first time after Joker, and it is clear just how much Todd Phillips took from Taxi Driver. Skip Joker and go watch Taxi Driver if you haven’t seen it yet.
Lots have been said about this movie before its wide release. Todd Phillips directed all three Hangover movies and claims our culture is too woke to make funny movies anymore. Phillips put all that self-pity right into Arthur. It is as unfounded in our world as it is in Gotham. Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro (another nod to Taxi Driver), calls Joker out on the self-pity on national television. This is not the only time that Phillips hits you over the head with his message explicitly. The movie lacks any true nuance.
Arthur Fleck becomes Joker at a startlingly quick pace; the timeline is compressed. He never explores the choices he has when facing adversity. He immediately jumps to violence and the movie tries to indicate that this wasn't a choice but the only option available. There are plenty of violent movies, but they have more reasoning and logic behind the character’s choices; like Taxi Driver.
The violent scenes are very graphic, yet not cartoonish as you might expect from a DC Comics property. The entire movie is shot in a very unsettling way. This works against the movie as there is never time to relax. The score is another main character. The orchestral arrangements are placed higher in the mix than any recent films I can think of. Single cello strings are plucked at a higher volume than any of the dialog. It adds to the unsettling nature of the entire movie.
I was unable to take a clear message away from this movie; it felt muddled to me. Some critics have concluded that the meaning of the movie is that violence is the only way for the oppressed and stepped on to advance. If this is the message, then this movie has a dangerous message. The Batman universe is not a place to say that violence is the answer after the Aurora, CO shooting.
Joker will get Oscar buzz. Acting for the sake of acting coupled with a horrible take on classism is a sure-fire recipe for a nomination. Arthur Fleck puts on an act, so you have an actor playing an actor, which always gets a nod by the academy. If this is the future of Todd Phillips I am disappointed.