Todd Phillips is several oceans removed from his usual comedy escapades (The Hangover trilogy) with his brutally dark, yet brilliant film ‘Joker‘. Those of you who are not particularly fond of the comic book genre these days will still find something amazing in this DC universe that takes place in the 1980s. Joaquin Phoenix gives an unparalleled performance as the titular psychopath with a smile like you’ve never seen him before in pages or on-screen. It’s really something to behold, but then again, Phoenix is always magnificent. The real star of the film is director Todd Phillips himself, who for the first time showed that he can hang with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and Francis Ford Coppola, delivering a picture-perfect account on Joker.
Phillips and his co-writer Scott Silver (The Fighter) weave a complex, violent character noir within the Batman universe that has intelligent ties to the caped crusader. But ‘Joker‘ strictly follows one man’s ascent into the symbol we’ve come to know since the 1930s. All this is made possible by Phoenix’s incredible physical body language and nuanced presentation of someone with a severe psychopathic tendency yet is highly astute and likable all the same. It’s a fine line, but both Phoenix and Phillips stay perfectly balanced in its two-hour run time, never tipping over to one side.
Phoenix plays a man named Arthur Fleck, who at best is awkward and lonely with a condition that forces him to laugh at inopportune moments. It’s physically debilitating and usually causes discomfort from citizens of Gotham. At his worst though, Fleck us unstable, cold-blooded, and has no regard for almost anyone in his life as he explains to his therapist that he’s never happy. He lives with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy), who he takes care of, where he watches the Late Night Show with Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), in hopes that one day he can be a guest comedian on the show. But for now, he dresses up like a clown and performs at hospitals or carries signs, promoting a business on the busy streets.
It’s easy to see where Phillips was influenced by ‘Taxi Driver‘ in these certain sequences that lead up to Fleck donning the suit and makeup we see in the posters. The camaraderie with fellow clowns at their run-down locker room, the political change coming to the city, and one man’s willingness to turn into a violent vigilante is all there, even though in the end, we know what path Fleck will dance towards to – the Joker.
The main drive for Fleck is perfecting his off-beat comedy at local clubs, where Murray Franklin gets a hold of a tape where Fleck bombed on stage. Of course, Murray makes fun of him, but the show invites him to come on as a guest. Meanwhile, Fleck is slowly becoming who he’s supposed to be by way of society always turning their back on him, even when he asks for help. There are many small, but important details throughout the film that help explain his method of madness and once all is revealed, it all falls into place, which I won’t spoil. Just know that it’s skillfully told in an inventive manner.
Watching Phoenix journey through his innocence to pure evil is a devastating ride, but as Arthur is subjected to cruelty, betrayal, and abuse – his insanity and savage outbursts are faultlessly manufactured. His performance showcases all of the needed emotion and decomposition of someone who wants to be good, but will never walk that line. It’s a sensational journey, albeit a chaotic one.
Even the music choice throughout the movie are well-planned and are subtly sardonic, including Cream’s “White Room”, Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life”, and even Gary Glitter’s sport’s anthem “Rock n Roll Part 2”. This movie is a slice of pure genius in the realm of this particular iconic character and world. Todd Phillips’s camerawork is next-level as he’s moved to the next stage in his career, which I can’t wait to witness. ‘Joker‘ is the best comic book character study ever made.
Wait’ll the get a load of this 2160p 4K transfer with Dolby Vision HDR on Warner Bros. new release of Joker. The Ultra HD image is brighter and more nuanced than its 1080p Blu-ray addition.
Director Todd Phillips and cinematographer Lawrence Sher perfectly created a grimy Gotham that looks to have taken place some decades ago. It has a very gloomy Scorsese Taxi Driver feel where everything seems to be covered in dirt. The color spectrum here with the Dolby Vision HDR does it all justice too. The varying shades of browns, reds, greens, and yellows all burn a little brighter and contrast nicely with the night-time blues. When Arthur is in his clown makeup and costume, the primary colors of neon green hair, bright red mouth makeup and more all pop right off-screen. And the illuminating white face paint does wonders in every lighting scenario. In addition to that, when Arthur fully ascends to Joker’s status, his maroon and yellow suit burst to the scene with top-notch vibrancy, mixed with his blue eye makeup. It all just looks wonderful in each of these different darker tone scenes. Black levels are deep without any evidence of crush or shadows and the skin tones are perfectly natural.
The detail with this 2160p transfer also looks very vivid and sharp, no matter what the color scheme is. Arthur’s suits and clown outfits show more of the intricate threading and stitching with better textures on the actor’s faces, including facial pores, wrinkles, and makeup effects such as bruises, and nasty wounds all show up nicely. Individual hairs stand out on Joker’s madded hair and his cigarette ash can be seen much easier now. Wider shots showcase all of the necessary grit on buildings and interior sets, which all look realistic.
There is an overall nostalgic feel to the movie where certain sequences can look soft, but rest assured, this is not a transfer issue, but a style choice that creates a 1970’s look of Gotham. It’s an intentional and perfect stylistic decision that makes the image look much better. Video issues are virtually non-existent here, making this one beautiful looking video presentation.
The soundstage is on this 4K UHD Disc comes with an impressive Dolby Atmos track that hits every note with precision and accuracy no matter if there is a big chaotic riot in the streets or soft dialogue on screen. This audio presentation is one to show your friends for their exquisite attention to detail.
The biggest audio moments come to play in the final climax of the film where the citizens of Gotham are having a riot in clown masks. There people yelling, explosions, police sirens, and many other violent acts being heard through the speakers. Each sound is well-balanced and layered through each speaker, which fully immerses you into this scary situation. Another big moment comes in when Arthur is on the Subway, which you can hear the train car riding by, and other patrons. Overhead speakers deliver raindrops, other anarchic elements of brutality, and people screaming from buildings. It’s such a busy and lively soundtrack that there is always something to be heard.
The score and musical cues always enhance the suspense and melancholy of the story with big bass notes and eerie strings that keep you on edge. Other quieter moments reveal the subtle voices in Arthur’s life, while you can hear traffic and subways in the background. Everything is crystal clear and easy to follow along with his dialogue, including his laugh, which seems to not make him happy but is very painful. This is a demo-worthy Dolby Atmos track in most sequences.
There is only about 30 minutes of extras here, which is such a damn shame. There should’ve been at least two hours of extras on this disc along with a commentary track. Sadly, there isn’t much of anything too deep.
Joker: Vision and Fury (HD, 23 Mins.) – Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, and Joaquin Phoenix all talk about this take and perspective on the popular DC character. It’s a good discussion, but all too short.
Joker: A Chronicle of Chaos (HD, 3 Mins.) – A series of movie stills set to music.
Please Welcome…Joker! (HD, 3 Mins.) – Some funny outtakes of Phoenix getting on the faux Murray Franklin Show, with Phillips discussing Phoenix’s performance.
Becoming Joker (HD, 2 Mins.) – Basically just Joaquin in and out of clown makeup, dancing around to music.
THE ULTIMATE WORD
Again, Joker is the best comic book character study ever put on film. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is incredibly nuanced and simply terrifying and darkly funny at the same time. It’s a wild ride for sure and full of sadness. The 4K UHD image with Dolby Vision along with the Dolby Atmos audio mix is simply sublime. There are only a couple of extras here, which are only available on the Blu-ray Disc, one of which has some great interviews and behind the scenes information, but it doesn’t last long. Other than that, it’s slim pickings. Despite me wanting several hours of bonus features here, this release is a MUST-OWN!
Written by: Bryan Kluger