A Joker in an Oscars Deck?

As an independent observer I try to avoid putting an eye on someone else`s reviews till I see a movie with my own eyes, but that was a special case. The media campaign were exploding soundly like a cannonade all year round, running before the timeline and promising Joker its pedestal in cinematic history. It was impossible to ignore the tsunami of opinions, however in the piles of positive and even suspiciously saccharine reviews my attention was caught by the one and only IndieWire comment: ‘Fight Club’ is the movie that ‘Joker’ failed to become. While the comic and action film fans held their breath in anticipation, the critics prepared their flattering words for festivals and openings, Joker put a smile on his wicked face and held the Golden Lion in his hands, and I could not put this very peaky comment out of my head.

The very comparison to the iconic Fight Club itself intrigued me more than Joker the movie. Frankly speaking, I never pretended to be a DC universe expert or a fan, my skills and knowledge in the field are limited by the chronology of the main screen adaptations, most popular graphic novels, and Batman stickers that I used to collect from the cheap bubble gum of early 1990ies. Maybe that is why I did not expected much from the film, nor the serious action visual or the deep drama. The main subject of my interest was what of Fight Club the Joker`s creators failed to reprise. It turned out that the review by IndieWire made a target shot: the film comprises a mosaic of evidently derivative and worn-out moments. There is no novelty and individual approach, except few camera tricks (sometimes camera shows the picture from a different angle, driving the focus from the center to an insane vision of the main character without a trembling live cam effect). Even the colors are derivative: the palette is extremely depressive though made of warm color schemes. To some extent, this reminds of Fight Club which coloring is formed of everything visible to a human`s eye.

©Photo credit: DC Entertainment, Warner Bros.

Joker would never be promised with so many awards if it was not for two factors. First, the politicized trend is on stage again: I am always against mixing politics and cinematic art (if it is not a documentary), so a razor-sharp political intervention into the DC universe seems unnecessary. Maybe painting Thomas Wayne into more controversial colors was a spicy plotline decision if not so obviously linked with the anti-Trump hype. Seriously, let`s make movies, the news will make themselves in the TV. Second, this award season seems to be poor for truly powerful films, so the academics and critics have a very limited choice, otherwise such a weak and faint movie never had a chance to run for an Oscar. Yes, ladies and gents, you are not mistaken, I said ‘weak’ and ‘faint’, since the expectations and audience reaction to Joaquin Phoenix`s performance were quite unrealistic. He surely did a big emotional work, but the role still looks more technically precise than profoundly felt. Like a figure skating performance, when the technique of element fulfillment sometimes outcompetes the soul of the dance. Or like any alcohol-free lager, with a taste but without the point. If looking for the inspiring examples of truly vibrant portrayals of mentally wounded characters, there is no need to dive deep down into the rabbit hole of Hitchcock paranoids: take irresistibly attractive but totally unhinged Stansfield from Leon The Professional (Gary Oldman), or Irish bone-head Jackie from State Of Grace (Gary Oldman again), or personally disintegrating Mort Rainey from Secret Window (Johnny Depp), or hardly adequate Fraser from Black Sea (Ben Mendelsohn), or fanatic maniac Barry from Blitz (Aidan Gillen). Their insanity looks natural and unpredictable, that is why they are truly creepy. Recall your fave cinematic psychos, I have no doubts that you can continue the list with brilliant examples of on-screen lunatism. The Heath Ledger himself in his iconic role was so genuine and absolutely genius.

©Photo credit: DC Entertainment, Warner Bros.

The producers` plans were greater than ever: they wanted Martin Scorsese in a director`s chair, the lead part was meant to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio, or at least Adam Driver, or Jake Gillenhaal, or Bill Skarsgård, or Caleb Landry Jones, or even Bradley Cooper. Finally Scorsese and Cooper became executive producers, the director`s throne was given up to Todd Phillips, and the lead part was taken by Joaquin Phoenix. It`s not a secret that everyone wanted to see numerous Easter eggs and tributes to Heath Ledger`s performance, but there were none. It is not bad, taking into account the general inauthentics of the film, but is not good either – it was impossible to play up to Ledger, and it turned impossible not to fail at all. The thing Joker did not fail at is igniting a flammable nostalgia for Christopher Nolan`s trilogy, the dark one as well but much more dynamic and charismatic. Look, the new Joker extremely lacks charismatic characters. Even the supporting role by Robert De Niro is a cardboard spoon in the alphabet soup of cartoonish sets.

©Photo credit: DC Entertainment, Warner Bros.

During the film I could not extricate myself from the total predictability of everything I see on screen: plotline, gestures, words, even makeup changes. There is nothing that can surprise in this movie, I believe that audience mainly looked for some other emotions. At least it was not shot in Chicago where Nolan did, otherwise it would be rather a Razzie-worth parody. NYC West End, Jersey City and Newark are impressive enough to create a DC depressive background.

©Photo credit: DC Entertainment, Warner Bros

The off-colored disgusting aesthetics of madness, social violence, peacockery smoking and open call to kill – I doubt the whole film industry if this is worth any awards. Not impressed by the film, I still believe that it will get its Oscars, at least for Best Actor, Best Film Editing and maybe even for the Best Adapted Screenplay. We`ll get back to this in winter of 2020, but for now I have only to agree with IndieWire reviewer David Ehrlich: The reasons why people are still talking about “Fight Club” today are the same reasons why people won’t be talking about “Joker” tomorrow.




  1. V.M.
    October 22nd, 2019 | 5:20 pm

    This is a very interesting review about a completely uninteresting film.

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