Thursday, October 17, 2019

Oscar performace within questionable flick

Caution: spoiler alerts ahead…..Should you see Joker, directed by Todd Phillips, or shouldn’t you see Joker? Having seen it I’d advise not. Yes, Joaquin Phoenix as the DC comic character turns an amazing role but that was to be expected from one of the best American actors of our time. Utterly embodying this psychopathic killer Phoenix’s is a fluid performance of a demented character in his many manifestations, from calm and collected when not tormented, to unlimited guffawing when he is disturbed by an event, to a literally masked killer whose motives are unexpected and spontaneous. It’s more than an Oscar-worthy performance. Having said that it’s questionable what the film itself is all about. Yes, if you like watching psychopaths on screen here is a grand portrayal for the ages. But for what purpose and to what end? Those expecting Batman to appear will be disappointed; there’s no Bruce Wayne in sight, and therefore no triumph of good over evil. Yet the rest of the comic story is in place, with Joker a denizen of Gotham City which of course is New York and in this case New York at its modern low ebb circa early 1980s. Subway cars are strewn with graffiti, crime rampant, and city streets grimy and litter-filled. But if the missing Batman was Bruce Wayne in disguise there is another “Wayne” that makes an appearance: Thomas Wayne, New York’s outspoken businessman. Of course this character is a stand in for Donald Trump and the film might be described as an anti-Trump screed. It also sides with the Occupy Wall Street movement of a decade ago. Joker slaughters three investment bankers on the subway who were harassing a woman (wouldn’t it be more correct that petty criminals of the era had been doing this?) The murders spark widespread outrage against the ruling class or “one percenters” of our time. Thousands of people don clown masks, as per Joker, to demonstrate. But this political theme is ultimately undercut by the character’s innate madness. Are these murders class-based or simply Joker’s acting out against anyone who annoys him enough, including a Johnny Carson stand-in in the name of Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro)? So what does the movie all add up to? Not much, except, yes, a wrenching performance by Phoenix.

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