Joker movie poster
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), working as a clown-for-hire, has dreams of becoming a stand-up comic in Gotham City. A rough upbringing and caring for ailing mother Penny (Frances Conroy) contribute to his mental health and downward spiral. After job problems and taking more than one beating, Arthur finally snaps - leading to a destined life of crime.

The darkest entry in DC Comics cinematic history, this standalone film is basically
a one-man show. Joaquin Phoenix is enthralling as he puts a human, but scary, face on an individual who goes deeper and deeper into madness. His interpretation of the iconic villain rightfully deserves the attention given to the late Heath Ledger (posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 2008's "The Dark Knight") and Jack Nicholson (Golden Globes nominee for 1989's "Batman"). Chief among the supporting cast is Robert De Niro in yet another solid performance as popular television talk show host Murray Franklin, who Arthur admires. This is a clever casting move. In "The King of Comedy" (1982), De Niro portrayed the unsuccessful comic and Jerry Lewis was the talk show host. Zazie Beetz, who played Domino in "Deadpool 2", is good as Fleck's desirable neighbor and single mom Sophie. Director Todd Phillips, who co-wrote the script with Scott Silver, ditches the realm of comedy ("The Hangover" trilogy and "Old School" among others) for full-on gloom and doom. The result is frightening and realistic. It is certain to draw controversy, hopefully peaceful, with issues surrounding mental health and extreme violence. But this is only a movie and a well-crafted one at that. For both film and comic book fans, there are several references to past creations and situations that will be left for audiences to discover. With Brett Cullen as mayoral candidate and millionaire Thomas Wayne, it's no surprise that there are Batman tie-ins. But they are kept to a minimum. Cinematographer Lawrence Sher expertly captures a dreary rat-infested Gotham City in 1981. An eerie score by composer Hildur Guðnadóttir adds to the impending dread and heightens the star's choreographed moves. While the outcome of this intense character study is known, the details in getting there are gripping. Joaquin Phoenix aces the role of "Joker". (4/5 CAMS)

Rated R (for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images)
Running Time: 121 minutes

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