Toronto: The red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival (Tiff), which leads up to the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, is stained with dashed hopes and splatters of blood ’n’ sweat of actors who gave their all to a role but got nothing in return, because the film carrying them just wasn’t worth it.
But Joaquin Phoenix, 44, may well have got the jury of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences by the collar. It’s not going be to easy for them to deny him the Oscar for Best Performance, Male, for his role in and as Joker.
In writer-director Todd Phillips’ Joker, which tells the standalone origin story of Batman’s iconic arch-nemesis and played at Tiff, Phoenix has given a seductive, new, delirious definition to crazy.
Phoenix’s Joker is not just a stunning, scary rendition of the comic-book everyday man disregarded by society, and his gradual decent as anti-hero, but it’s the sort of performance that becomes a benchmark for future actors to aspire to.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is an aspiring stand-up comedian who keeps a rather disturbing journal of his thoughts and jokes but doesn’t have the funnies because he's a man born to misery. Reduced to earn a living by dressing up as a clown for hire, the socially awkward man who lives with his mother and often has to rehearse simple interactions before he can play-act them, finds it easy to converse with his gun than talk when all the strings tying him feebly to normalcy get snapped one by one. If Phoenix is bypassed and the golden statuette goes to another, it will be only because Phillips’ film aspires to but never really rises to match his performance.
Joker is more a B-grade beauty than a film in the league of Christopher Nolan’s very noir The Dark Night Trilogy. Phoenix uses his body, eyes, face, hair to create a portrait of a man spiralling into criminal madness. In one scene, right at the beginning, he is able to conjure and convey a rising degree of menace, as if evil is incubating while holding a stop-watch.
There needed to be some more, intelligent exploration of his particular brand of crazy, but the film leaves that job almost entirely to Phoenix.
Reportedly, director Todd Phillips’ great piece of advice to Joaquin Phoenix while he was getting ready to play Joker was, “Let’s just be bold. Let’s do something.”
Phoenix did. Phillips just recorded it.