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Joker (2019 film)

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Joker
Joker (2019 film) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTodd Phillips
Produced by
Written by
Based onCharacters
by DC Comics
StarringJoaquin Phoenix
Music byHildur Guðnadóttir
CinematographyLawrence Sher
Edited byJeff Groth
Production
companies
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • August 31, 2019 (2019-08-31) (Venice)
  • October 4, 2019 (2019-10-04) (United States)
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$55 million[1]

Joker is a 2019 American psychological thriller film directed by Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scott Silver. The film, based on DC Comics characters, stars Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, it is intended to launch DC Black, a series of DC-based standalone films. The film, which acts as an origin story for the Joker, is set in 1981 and follows Arthur Fleck, a failed stand-up comedian who turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City. Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Marc Maron, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, and Brian Tyree Henry, among others, appear in supporting roles.

Phillips conceived Joker in 2016 and wrote the script with Silver throughout 2017. The two were inspired by 1970s character studies and the works of Martin Scorsese (who was initially attached to the project as a producer); the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) served as the basis for the film's premise, but Phillips and Silver otherwise did not look to specific comics for inspiration. Phoenix became attached to the project in February 2018 and was cast that July, while the majority of the cast signed on by August. Principal photography lasted from September to December 2018 and took place in New York City, Jersey City, and Newark. Joker was the first live-action Batman franchise film to receive an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, due to its violent and disturbing content.

Joker premiered at the 76th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2019, where it won the Golden Lion, the festival's highest prize. It is scheduled to be theatrically released in the United States on October 4, 2019. The film received positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for Phoenix's performance.

Premise

In 1981, a failed stand-up comedian turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City.[2][3]

Cast

  • Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck / Joker:[3]
    A mentally ill, impoverished stand-up comedian disregarded by society,[4][3] whose lack of success causes him to become a nihilistic criminal.[5] Prior to Phoenix's casting, Leonardo DiCaprio had been considered.[6] Phoenix had been interested in a low-budget "character study" of a comic book character, and said the film "feels unique, it is its own world in some ways, and maybe [...] It might as well be the thing that scares you the most".[7] Phoenix lost 52 pounds (24 kg) in preparation,[8][9] and based his laugh on "videos of people suffering from pathological laughter".[10] He also sought to portray a character that audiences could not identify with and did not look to previous Joker actors for inspiration; instead, he read a book about political assassinations so he could understand killers and motivations.[5]
  • Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin:[11]
    A talk show host who plays a role in Arthur's downfall.[12] De Niro said his role in Joker pays homage to his character from The King of Comedy (1983), Rupert Pupkin, who is a comedian obsessed with a talk-show host.[11]
  • Zazie Beetz as Sophie Dumond:[13]
    A cynical single mother and Arthur's love interest.[13][14] Beetz, a "huge fan" of Phoenix, said that it was "an honor" to work with him,[15] and that she learned a lot working with him on set.[16]
  • Frances Conroy as Penny Fleck: Arthur's mother.[17]

Brett Cullen portrays Thomas Wayne, a billionaire philanthropist running for mayor of Gotham.[18] Unlike the source material, he plays a role in the Joker's origins and is less sympathetic than traditional incarnations.[19] Alec Baldwin was initially cast in the role but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts.[20][21] Douglas Hodge plays Alfred Pennyworth, the butler and caretaker of the Wayne family,[22] and Dante Pereira-Olson plays Bruce Wayne, Thomas's son, who becomes the Joker's archenemy Batman as an adult.[23][24]

Additionally, Marc Maron portrays Ted Marco, Arthur's agent,[25][26] while Bill Camp and Shea Whigham play officers in the Gotham City Police Department.[2] Glenn Fleshler appears as a comedian[27] and Bryan Callen appears as a stripper.[28] Josh Pais and Brian Tyree Henry have been cast in undisclosed roles.[27][29]

Production

Development

Joker director Todd Phillips in 2016

Between 2014 and 2015, Joaquin Phoenix was interested in acting in a low-budget "character study" type of film about a comic book villain like the DC Comics character Joker.[7] Phoenix had previously declined to act in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because he would have been required to play the roles he was offered, like the Hulk and Doctor Strange, in multiple films.[30] He did not believe his idea for a film should cover the Joker, however, as he believed that character had been depicted in a similar way before, and tried to think of a different one. Phoenix's agent suggested setting up a meeting with Warner Bros., but he declined.[7] Similarly, Todd Phillips had been offered to direct comic-based films a number of times, but declined because he thought they were "loud" and did not interest him. According to Phillips, Joker was born from his idea to create a different, more grounded comic book film.[8]

Phillips pitched the idea for Joker to Warner Bros. after his film War Dogs premiered in August 2016. During the premiere, Phillips realized "War Dogs wasn't going to set the world on fire and I was thinking, 'What do people really want to see?'"[8] He proposed that DC Films differentiate its slate from the competing Marvel Studios' by producing low-budget, standalone films.[31][32] After the successful release of the standalone feature Wonder Woman (2017), DC Films decided to deemphasize the shared nature of its DC-based film franchise, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).[33] In August 2017, Warner Bros. and DC Films revealed plans for the film, with Phillips directing and co-writing with Scott Silver, and Martin Scorsese co-producing with Phillips.[34] The announcement of the film was met with mixed reactions. Jared Leto, who portrays the Joker in the DCEU, was reportedly displeased with the existence of multiple different contemporary Joker characters.[6]

By September 2017, Warner Bros. was considering casting Leonardo DiCaprio as the Joker, hoping to use his frequent collaborator Scorsese's involvement to lure him,[6] but by February 2018, Phoenix was Phillips's top choice for the role.[35] Phillips later said that Phoenix was the only actor he considered.[36] Padraig Cotter of Screen Rant noted that since the film was a standalone story, Phoenix would not have to appear in sequels as he would have in the Marvel offer.[30] Phoenix said when he learned of the film, he became excited because it was the kind of film he was looking to make, describing it as unique and stating it did not feel like a typical "studio movie".[7] However, it took Phoenix some time to commit to the role, as it intimidated him and he said "oftentimes, in these movies, we have these simplified, reductive archetypes, and that allows for the audience to be distant from the character, just like we would do in real life, where it's easy to label somebody as evil, and therefore say, 'Well, I'm not that.'"[37]

Writing

It was a yearlong process from when we finished the script just to get the new people on board with this vision, because I pitched it to an entirely different team than made it. There were emails about: 'You realize we sell Joker pajamas at Target.' There were a zillion hurdles, and you just sort of had to navigate those one at a time.... At the time, I would curse them in my head every day. But then I have to put it in perspective and go, 'They're pretty bold that they did this.'

Todd Phillips[8]

Phillips and Silver wrote Joker throughout 2017, and the writing process took about a year.[38] According to producer Emma Tillinger Koskoff, it took some time to get approval for the script from Warner Bros., partly because of concerns over the content. Similarly, Phillips commented that there were "a zillion hurdles" during the year-long writing process due to the visibility of the character.[8] Phillips said that while the script's themes may reflect modern society, the film was not intended to be political.[38] The Joker had appeared in several films before, but Phillips thought it was still possible to produce a new story featuring the character. "It's just another interpretation, like people do interpretations of Macbeth," he told The New York Times.[36]

The script draws inspiration from Scorsese films such as Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and The King of Comedy (1983),[34] as well as Phillips' Hangover Trilogy.[39] Other films Phillips has cited as inspiration include character studies released in the 1970s—such as Serpico (1973) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)—the silent film The Man Who Laughs (1928), and several musicals. Phillips said that aside from the tone, he did not consider Joker that different from his previous work, such as his Hangover films.[38] While the film's premise was inspired by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), which depicts the Joker as a failed stand-up comedian,[3][8] Phillips said it does not "follow anything from the comic books... That's what was interesting to me. We're not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker."[40] Phillips later clarified that he meant they did not look to a specific comic for inspiration, but rather "picked and chose what we liked" from the character's history.[41]

Phillips and Silver found the most common Joker origin story, in which the character is disfigured after falling into a vat of acid, too unrealistic.[8] Instead, they used certain elements of the Joker lore to produce an original story,[42] which Phillips wanted to feel as authentic as possible.[8] Because the Joker does not have a definitive origin story in the comics, Phillips and Silver were given considerable creative freedom and "pushed each other every day to come up with something totally insane."[38] The two wrote the script with Phoenix in mind: "The goal was never to introduce Joaquin Phoenix into the comic book movie universe. The goal was to introduce comic book movies into the Joaquin Phoenix universe."[37]

Pre-production

Following the disappointing critical and financial performance of Justice League (2017), in January 2018 Walter Hamada replaced Jon Berg as the head of DC-based film production at Warner Bros.[43] Hamada sorted through the various DC films in development, canceling some while advancing work on others; the Joker film was expected to begin filming in late 2018 with a small budget.[1] By June, Robert De Niro was under consideration for a supporting role in the film.[44] The deal with Phoenix was finalized in July 2018,[45] after four months of persuasion from Phillips.[8] Immediately afterwards,[45] Warner Bros. officially green-lit the film,[46] titled it Joker, and gave it an October 4, 2019, release date.[47] Warner Bros. described the film as "an exploration of a man disregarded by society [that] is not only a gritty character study, but also a broader cautionary tale".[3]

Scorsese's longtime associate Koskoff joined to produce,[48][49] although Scorsese left his producing duties due to other obligations.[48] Scorsese considered instead serving as an executive producer, but was preoccupied with his film The Irishman.[8] It was also confirmed that the film would have no effect on Leto's Joker[50] and it was expected to be the first in a new series of DC films unrelated to the DCEU.[1] Zazie Beetz was cast in a supporting role,[14] and De Niro entered negotiations in August.[12][51] Frances McDormand declined an offer to portray the mother of the Joker, and Frances Conroy was in talks for the role.[52][17] At the end of July, Marc Maron, who had recently finished filming the third season of the web television series GLOW,[26] and Bryan Callen joined the cast.[25][53] Alec Baldwin was cast as Thomas Wayne on August 27, but dropped out two days later due to scheduling conflicts.[20]

Filming

A corrugated silver metal subway train sits with its doors open in a station. Its rollsign reads "0 Local / To Old Gotham all times / Downtown & Tricorner".
A New York City Subway C train with a rollsign for the fictional 0 train left over from filming for Joker

Principal photography commenced in September 2018 in New York City,[a] under the working title Romeo.[56] Shortly after filming began, De Niro, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Josh Pais, and Douglas Hodge were announced to have joined the film, with Cullen replacing Baldwin.[57][27] Bradley Cooper also joined the film as a producer.[58] The director of photography was Lawrence Sher, with whom Phillips had previously collaborated with for his Hangover films.[27] On September 22, a scene depicting a violent protest took place in Brooklyn, although the station was modified to look like Bedford Park Blvd.[59] In late September 2018, filming of robbery scenes took place at the First Central Savings Bank in Astoria, Queens.[60]

According to Beetz, Phillips rewrote the entire script during production; because Phoenix lost so much weight for the film, there would not be an opportunity for reshoots. She recalled: "we would go into Todd's trailer and write the scene for the night and then do it. During hair and makeup we'd memorize those lines and then do them and then we'd reshoot that three weeks later."[61] Phillips recalled Phoenix sometimes walked off-set during filming because he lost self-control and needed to compose himself—to the confusion of other actors, who felt they had done something wrong. De Niro was one of the few Phoenix never walked out on, and De Niro said he was "very intense in what he was doing, as it should be, as he should be."[62]

Filming in Jersey City started on September 30 and shut down Newark Avenue, while filming in November (starting on November 9) shut down Kennedy Boulevard. Filming in Newark began on October 13 and lasted until October 16.[56] Shortly before filming in Newark began, SAG-AFTRA received a complaint that extras were locked in subway cars for more than three hours during filming in Brooklyn, a break violation. However, the issue was quickly resolved after a representative visited the set.[63] That month, Dante Pereira-Olson and Douglas Hodge joined the cast.[22] Whigham said towards the end of October the film was in "the middle" of production, adding that it was an "intense" and "incredible" experience.[2] By mid-November, filming had moved back to New York.[64] Filming wrapped on December 3, 2018,[65] with Phillips posting a picture on his Instagram feed later in the month to commemorate the occasion.[66]

Post-production

Phillips confirmed he was in the process of editing Joker in March 2019.[67] At CinemaCon the following month, he stated the film was "still taking shape" and said it was difficult to discuss, as he hoped to maintain secrecy.[68] Phillips also stated that most reports surrounding the film were inaccurate, which he felt was because it is "an origin story about a character that doesn't have a definitive origin".[69] Brian Tyree Henry was also confirmed to have a role in the film.[29] The visual effects were provided by Scanline VFX and Shade VFX and supervised by Matthew Giampa and Bryan Godwin, with Erwin Rivera serving as the overall supervisor.[70]

In August 2018, Hildur Guðnadóttir was hired to compose the film's score.[71] Guðnadóttir began writing music after reading the script and met with Phillips, who "had a lot of strong ideas" about how he thought the score should sound. She worked on the Joker score alongside the score for the drama miniseries Chernobyl; Guðnadóttir said switching between the two was challenging because the scores were so different.[72]

The film's final budget was $55 million, considered by The Hollywood Reporter "a fraction" of the typical budget for a comic book-based film.[1][73] Of the total cost, $25 million was covered by the Toronto-based financing company Creative Wealth Media.[74] Joker was also the first live-action film in the Batman film franchise to receive an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, due to "strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language, and brief sexual images."[75]

Marketing

Phillips has promoted the film by posting set photos on his Instagram feed.[76] On September 21, 2018, he released test footage of Phoenix in-costume as the Joker, with "Laughing" by The Guess Who accompanying the footage.[77] At CinemaCon on April 2, 2019, Phillips unveiled the first trailer for the film,[29] which was released online the following day.[78] The trailer, prominently featuring the song "Smile" performed by Jimmy Durante, generated positive responses, with some commentators comparing it to Taxi Driver and Requiem for a Dream and praising Phoenix's performance.[79][80] Writers described the trailer as dark and gritty,[81] with ComicBook.com's Jenna Anderson feeling it was more like a psychological thriller than a comic book film.[29] Mark Hamill, who voiced the Joker in the 1992 cartoon Batman: The Animated Series, expressed enthusiasm in a Twitter post.[82][83] Conversely, io9's Germain Lussier said the trailer revealed too little and that it was too similar to photos Phillips posted on Instagram. While he still believed it exhibited potential, Lussier overall thought the trailer was not "a home run".[84] The trailer received over eight million views in the first few hours of release.[85]

On August 25, 2019, Phillips released six brief teasers that contained flashes of writing, revealing the second trailer would be released on August 28.[86] Filmmaker Kevin Smith commended the trailer, stating he thought the film "would still work even if [DC Comics] didn't exist" and praising its uniqueness.[87]

Release

Joker premiered at the 76th Venice International Film Festival on August 31, 2019.[88] It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2019,[89] and is scheduled to be released theatrically by Warner Bros. Pictures on October 4, 2019 in the United States. It will be released in Australia and some other international markets on October 3.[90][91]

Reception

Box office

In August 2019, BoxOffice magazine analyst Shawn Robbins wrote that he expected Joker to gross $60–90 million during its opening weekend in North America.[92] Following the film's premiere, BoxOffice predicted Joker could open to $70–95 million domestically,[93] later updated to $85–105 million. Robbins suggested it could become the first October release to open to over $100 million, and surpass the record set by Venom in 2018.[94] However, Comscore's senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian thought the film would open closer to $50 million because it is not a "typical comic-book movie."[95] Three weeks prior to its release, official industry tracking projected the film would debut to $65–80 million, with some estimates going as high as $90 million.[96]

Critical response

Joaquin Phoenix (pictured in 2018) received considerable praise for his performance as the Joker.[97]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 77% based on 103 reviews, with an average rating of 7.56/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Joker gives its infamous central character a chillingly plausible origin story that serves as a brilliant showcase for its star – and a dark evolution for comics-inspired cinema."[98] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 70 out of 100 based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[99] At its premiere, the film received an eight-minute standing ovation.[100]

Writing for IGN, Jim Vejvoda gave Joker a perfect score, writing the film "would work just as well as an engrossing character study without any of its DC Comics trappings; that it just so happens to be a brilliant Batman-universe movie is icing on the Batfan cake." He found it a powerful and unsettling allegory of contemporary neglect and violence, and described Phoenix's performance as the Joker as engrossing and "Oscar-worthy".[101] Similarly, Xan Brooks of The Guardian—who also gave the film a perfect score—called it "gloriously daring and explosive" and appreciated how Phillips used elements from Scorsese films to create an original story.[102] Variety's Owen Gleiberman wrote: "Phoenix is astonishing as a mentally ill geek who becomes the killer-clown Joker in Todd Phillips' neo-Taxi Driver knockout: the rare comic-book movie that expresses what's happening in the real world."[103]

ComicBook.com's Brandon Davis acclaimed Joker as a groundbreaking comic book adaptation that he found scarier than most 2019 horror films. Davis compared it favorably to the 2008 Batman film The Dark Knight, praised the cinematography and performances, and called it a film that needed to be seen to be believed.[104] According to Deadline Hollywood's Pete Hammond, the film redefines the Joker and is "impossible to shake off." Hammond also praised the story and performances, and summarized the film as "a bravura piece of filmmaking that speaks to the world we are actually living in today in ways that few movies do."[105]

David Ehrlich of IndieWire was more mixed and gave the film a "C+". He felt that while "Joker is the boldest and most exciting superhero movie since The Dark Knight", it was "also incendiary, confused, and potentially toxic." Ehrlich thought that the film would make DC fans happy and praised Phoenix's performance, but criticized Phillips' direction and the lack of originality.[106] A more critical review came from Glenn Kennedy of RogerEbert.com, who gave the film two stars out of four. Though he praised the performances and thought the story worked, Kennedy criticized the social commentary and Phillips' direction, finding the film too derivative and believing its focus was "less in entertainment than in generating self-importance."[107] Time magazine's Stephanie Zacharek, in a negative review, criticized Phoenix's performance as over-the-top and felt that while Phillips tried to "[give] us a movie all about the emptiness of our culture... he's just offering a prime example of it." She argued the plot was nonexistent, "dark only in a stupidly adolescent way," and "stuffed with phony philosophy."[108]

DC Comics chief creative officer Jim Lee praised the film as "intense, raw and soulful," and stated that it remained true to the character despite deviating from the source material.[97]

Commentary

Joker deals with the themes of mental illness and its effects,[109] and its depiction of the Joker has been described as reminiscent of those who commit mass shootings in the United States as well as members of the online incel community.[110][111] Vejvoda, Hammond, and The Guardian's Christina Newland interpreted the film as a cautionary tale—society's ignorance of those who are less fortunate will create a person like the Joker.[101][105][112] Stephen Kent, writing for The Washington Examiner, described Arthur Fleck as blending shared aspects of mass shooters, and interpreted its message as a reminder that society is riddled with men like the Joker.[110]

The film has generated controversy over whether its sympathetic portrayal of a homicidal maniac could inspire real-world violence.[113][114] Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair found the film too sympathetic towards "white men who commit heinous crimes" and that the social-politics ideologies represented in the film are "evils that are far more easily identifiable" to people "who shoot up schools and concerts and churches, who gun down the women and men they covet and envy, who let loose some spirit of anarchic animus upon the world—there’s almost a woebegone mythos placed on them in the search for answers."[115] Jim Geraghty of National Review wrote he was "worried that a certain segment of America's angry, paranoid, emotionally unstable young men will watch Joaquin Phoenix descending into madness and a desire to get back at society by hurting as many people as possible and exclaim, 'finally, somebody understands me!'"[116]

Accolades

List of awards and nominations
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref.
Golden Trailer Awards May 29, 2019 Best Teaser "Maybe Tomorrow", Warner Bros., JAX Nominated [117]
Toronto International Film Festival September 10, 2019 TIFF Tribute Actor Award Joaquin Phoenix Won [118]
Venice Film Festival September 7, 2019 Golden Lion Joker Won [119][120]
Graffetta d'Oro Joker Won
Premio Soundtrack Stars Award Hildur Guðnadóttir Won

Future

In contrast to modern comic book films, Joker was intended to be a standalone film with no planned sequels.[68] While Phillips said in August 2019 that he would be interested in making a sequel, depending on the film's performance and if Phoenix is interested,[39] he later clarified that "the movie's not set up to [have] a sequel. We always pitched it as one movie, and that's it."[121] Warner Bros. intends for Joker to launch DC Black, a line of DC Comics-based films unrelated to the DCEU with darker, more experimental material, similar to comic imprints such as Elseworlds.[31][122]

Notes

  1. ^ While the filming start date was scheduled for September 10,[54] Phillips suggested in an Instagram post that production began on September 2.[55]

References

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