The critically acclaimed Joker film has instantly risen to international prominence ever since its release. Its controversial theme and unnerving vibe gave audiences a disturbing outlook on the clown prince's personal life. While the film might not exactly be what comic fans were hoping for, it still highlighted the acting prowess of its lead Joaquin Phoenix.
Some might be wondering, how was Phoenix able to convincingly pull off such a demented yet complex character as Joker? Well, there's a good reason for that. You see, the 44-year-old actor is no stranger when it comes to playing messed up characters. In fact, he has a penchant for taking on complex and unsettling roles on numerous occasions.
From traumatized assassins and unstable substance abusers to scoundrels with a thirst for violence, Phoenix has played them all! Although that doesn't mean he only portrays disturbed characters. He also starred in films where he took on more heroic roles as well! Here are 10 Joaquin Phoenix portrayals that are as troubling as Joker, including 5 heroic roles that highlight just how versatile his acting can be.
15 Willie Gutierrez (The Yards)
When a man accepts his role in a corrupt society and plays by its rules, he becomes someone like Willie Gutierrez. Phoenix's character is as vicious as he is a charmer. One moment, he's talking to women and enjoying a party, the next moment, he's ruthlessly ending someone's life! Phoenix brings to life a character who isn't just a victim of his environment, but of his own choices as well.
14 Theodore (Her)
Theodore is a complex character who struggles with his own impulses and life's constant challenges. His character basically falls madly in love with his personal AI assistant. He eventually becomes so obsessed that there even comes a point where he completely cuts ties with any human interaction! Sure, Theodore is a mess of a character but Phoenix's portrayal certainly made him more relatable.
13 Ray Elwood (Buffalo Soldiers)
The film revolves around an unapologetic, remorseless and conniving soldier named Ray. Phoenix turned the character into a soldier who's ruthless, ambitious and at times, downright unpatriotic! It's another one of his controversial roles that turns political themes into satire. Of course, he's no stranger to such roles, that's why he plays these infamous character archetypes so well.
12 Leonard Kraditor (Two Lovers)
Phoenix portrays a depressed, messed up, and suicidal individual in Leonard. The film actually starts with Leonard trying to end his life! It's even suggested that this isn't the first time he tried doing so either. Leonard is such a troubled individual, it's quite a miracle he's even capable of romancing two lovers in the film, and at the same time, too! Phoenix does indeed bring the charm.
11 Doc Sportello (Inherent Vice)
This film sends Phoenix on a wild ride as local hippie private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello. Doc is an oddball of sorts, he's kinda like a wandering anti-hero who's rarely sober. It also doesn't help that he always gets himself into trouble! When Phoenix starts looking like the goofy twin of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, we know something crazy is bound to happen.
10 Commodus (Gladiator)
This role transformed Phoenix into a despicable tyrant worthy of hate. Commodus is a notorious Roman leader with a thirst for blood! His reputation is built on fear and intimidation. He's the epitome of a ruthless leader with an ego that's out of control. Phoenix's portrayal is so effective that he made the audience feel contempt towards his character's dastardly nature.
9 Heroic: Lucius Hunt (The Village)
In Lucius Hunt, Phoenix gets to flex his heroic nature. Lucius is a courageous individual who would risk his life to save his village. Unfortunately, not all heroes get happy endings. There's a fine line between being a hero who saves the day and a martyr who becomes a symbol of warning to others. Lucius walks that line and hopes for the best but ends up being the latter.
8 Freddie Quell (The Master)
Phoenix's portrayal depicts a man who has freedom but lacks purpose. Freddie is a truly aberrant individual in desperate need of guidance. He's violent, unstable and unhinged. He has trouble controlling his impulses and urges making him a broken mess of a man! Freddie represents the more primal side of man, uncontrollably feeding his desires without being able to sate his hunger.
7 Heroic: Merrill Hess (Signs)
Phoenix plays as a sort of sidekick to his brother Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson. However, his role in the film turned out to be even more heroic than his brother's! Merrill even gets to swing a bat at the extraterrestrial menace and ultimately saves the day! How's that for a supporting role?
6 Joe (You Were Never Really Here)
Joker might be getting praises due to its Taxi Driver vibe. However, some might not know that Phoenix already starred in a film that's regarded as this generation's version of Martin Scorsese's classic. Enter Joe, a traumatized war veteran entangled in a sinister operation. He's a scarred man with violent tendencies placed in unfortunate situations. Joe isn't just a danger to criminals, he's also a danger to himself!
5 Heroic: Jack Morrison (Ladder 49)
Jack Morrison is a firefighter who faces a real dilemma. He loves his job, but at the same time, he loves his family as well. He knows that he'll eventually have to sacrifice one for the other. Joe embodies the troubles and inevitable sacrifices that real life heroes make. Phoenix's portrayal shows the human side of these brave rescuers, and that even heroes can falter.
4 Charlie Sisters (The Sisters Brothers)
Who would've thought that John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix would make a great team? Well, they certainly made it work in this crazy Western misadventure. Phoenix plays as Reilly's crazier and angrier brother Charlie, of the notorious pair of assassins known as the Sisters Brothers. Charlie is one bad hombre with an erratic tendency of switching from playful to downright crazy!
3 Heroic: Kenai (Brother Bear)
Kenai is a man who was involuntarily turned into a bear so that he could learn a valuable life lesson. Ironically, Kenai learned how to become a man by becoming a bear, what a peculiar twist of fate! It looks like Phoenix can play Disney characters as efficiently as he plays miscreants. It's so different from the roles he's used to playing that he almost sounds like someone else!
2 Himself (I'm Still Here)
The lengths that Phoenix goes through when it comes to staying in character is downright insane. This film proves just that! In the film, Phoenix simply plays as himself. The thing is, he had to pretend he's retired from acting to pursue a musical career. He basically fabricated a rebellious rockstar persona, which ended up fooling both the media and other celebrities alike!
1 Heroic: Jesus (Mary Magdalene)
Phoenix's role as the venerable Jesus is quite unexpected, to say the least. Who would've guessed that the same guy who played the psychotic Joker can also portray such a venerated figure? He did a decent job too, placing more emphasis on his acting instead of simply delivering lines. His take on the role makes the character a man of action rather than words.