Joaquin Phoenix is one of the most talented actor’s working in film right now. He has been nominated for two academy awards so far and seemed to be at the height of his career. That is why I was shocked when he dropped the bomb that he was retiring from acting to pursue a career as a hip hop artist.
When I had heard that his brother in law, Casey Affleck, was following his actions with a camera I got the feeling that it was a hoax. But then clips of his transition began to surface and a bizarre appearance on David Letterman made me think other wise. Right up until this movie debuted I was fully convinced that Phoenix was having a melt down. Then Affleck and Phoenix dropped the bomb and came clean claiming it was a hoax.
Now that I have seen the film I can say that it is a brilliant performance piece about a man who falls from grace in to booze, drugs and hookers, all the while seeming to crack mentally. As the film opens, we see Joaquin sort of as we know him. He simply looks unshaved and in need of a hair cut. He claims that he is done with acting and that it does nothing for him anymore. By the end of the film he is wandering down a river in Panama, alone, shirtless, with his hair and beard almost covering the top half of his body.
The journey Phoenix goes through is painful. He seems to be against the world. The media is all over him trying to figure out if he has lost his mind. His performances as a rapper feel genuine if not childish. Through out the film there is an array of celebrities that seems to give the idea that this is not a joke some credibility. Especially when Sean P. Diddy Combs appears to be on the fence on whether he wants to produce Joaquin’s album.
What starts out as a bit of a joke quickly becomes a nightmare. Joaquin becomes abusive and self destructive. Everything he does seems to be fuelled by bitterness and insecurity. The constant drug abuse does not help either. I have to say that Phoenix and Affleck pull this off on an awesome scale. If they had never come out as a put on I would have really been hoping that Phoenix could get his life together.
As documentaries go it is kind of brilliant. Everyone involved seems pretty fearless in what they are doing. Phoenix puts himself in situations that you know are going to end in disaster, but does it anyway for art. Will his career recover? That could be the subject of another documentary.