RETRO REVIEW: THE JOKER
"If you’re playing a darker side of the character, they don’t consider themselves a bad guy. They wake up every day and they think they’re the good guys, they have obstacles and goals that they want to achieve just like anyone else but, in their world and their head they’re the hero of the show. So in my mind I don’t play the bad guy." This is what Michael Eklund, the villain of the 2014 film The Joker, revealed in an interview about playing so-called bad guys. While the unconventional horror doesn’t have its own Batman, it still attempts to emphatically understand the emotional and powerful motivations that drive people to commit inhumane acts. Director Greg Francis and his actors are storytellers in this fast-paced crime thriller.
New detective Stan Jeter (Beau Mirchoff) joins the Warsaw Indiana Police Department and is also invited to the department’s poker night. The men around the table take turns to play, while calculating poker odds, and sharing the most memorable cases of their careers with our protagonist. While the detectives are thinking about the right price to call, the implied odds, and the best outs, little did they know the sheer value of the things they were telling Stan — information that would serve as his lifeline in later events. Stan and Amy (Halston Sage) are eventually abducted and locked in a basement by a masked psychopath (Michael Eklund). The basement is filled with torture devices reminiscent of those in Saw films, and Stan is forced to use the insight he has gained from his fellow detectives to help himself and Amy escape death.
Although the movie is far from Tod Phillips’ 2019 psychological thriller blockbuster Joker featuring Joaquin Phoenix, the film is also mostly told by the antagonist. Only this time, it’s done through flashbacks to backstories. While said flashbacks are designed to add subtext, create mystery, and pique audience interest, the sudden time skips can make the film a bit jarring and disorientating at times. For one, Stan appears in all the backstories, even ones that do not involve him, and this made it difficult for audiences to differentiate the present from the flashbacks. However, it does a good job of setting a dark, mysterious ambiance that makes the viewers want to get to the bottom of the case.
The film garnered mixed reviews due to its cliche nature and mediocre use of tropes. Though it also had its supporters. While it doesn’t bring anything new to the table when it comes to its thriller and horror aspects, it makes for a very interesting viewing experience, thanks to its eventful plot and unique way of incorporating the events through your average poker night. Much like any Texas Hold’em game, the protagonists encounter plenty of twists and turns that are sure to keep you interested. The group of brilliant actors also make up for the criticisms against the film.
The stellar cast includes Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito, who appeared on the recently-launched video game Far Cry 6, experienced antihero Michael Eklund, Sons of Anarchy’s Titus Welliver, Hellboy’s Ron Perlman, and of course, Beau Mirchoff and Halston Sage. Eklund’s performance as the leather-masked assailant, in particular, was commendable as he was able to project the eeriness of the psychopathic villain quite well, and successfully brought to life even the most emotional scenes. He also did all of his own stunts, which the film had quite a lot of. Some critics called The Joker a “wild card” as it makes a memorable monster out of Michael Eklund.
Freaky, exciting, and hard to watch at times, The Joker is a good movie if you’re up to witnessing disturbing horror unfold out of a simple poker night among a few run-of-the-mill detectives.