Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"Phoenix strips the skin off your eyeballs. What happens next is a gasp away from easy." | Photo: Warner Bros

Here we go again. The bat, the car, the posh butler, the comic book transfer, the must, the most, the baddie dressed as a clown, New York masquerading as an artist’s model...Hey! Wait one! This time it’s different. It’s not like that.

There are others, don’t forget. Catwoman, The Penguin, Jim Carrey’s Riddler and Arnie’s Mr Freeze. Stop right there. You can talk the hind legs off Bambi’s buddies about wanting to improve the safety record in Gotham City, or watch the Supervillains test every guise the illustrators choose to indulge.

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What makes impossible cut short its “im” is the popularity of graphic imagination. Bad becomes relative. Good depends on the quality of CGI and the wit levels in the writing dept. And then there are the faces out front, otherwise known as the talent, Jack the Lad in Burton’s Batman and Heath Ledger in one of the last, certainly his last. Now it’s the turn of River’s brother, Joaquin, whose reputation as a difficult truth grinder and a performer of intensity who will walk off the set if it doesn’t feel right makes him an exciting, expensive prospect.

He plays Arthur Fleck, unemployable, unemployed, who lives in a cramped messy apartment with his ageing mother (Frances Conroy), who has a history of instability. He calls himself a comic actor and performs in heavy clown make up for kids and, at night, does stand-up at a supper club where he verbally abuses himself and the audience (if there is one) and suffers from fits of laughter, which may or may not be part of the act.

He makes one thing clear from the start. His name is Joker, not The Joker. Any connection with Bruce Wayne is imaginary. Therefore this is not another Batmovie. It’s a stand alone study in mental disorder. The tension is real. Phoenix strips the skin off your eyeballs. What happens next is a gasp away from easy.

Seldom has a performance dominated to such a degree. The experience of living out of range of normality and yet faking the distress as a natural disruption of personality is captured to perfection. Arthur does not expose his confusion with acts of violence. Later things change as the pressure of staying in touch with reality becomes intolerable.

Does an actor have the power and intelligence to add extra to ordinary? It has happened before. Now it happens again.

The Phoenix legend is not dead. Batman sleeps in another room.

Reviewed on: 04 Oct 2019
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Joker packshot
Origin story of Batman's arch nemesis.
Amazon link

Director: Todd Phillips

Writer: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron, Shea Whigham, Brian Tyree Henry, Frances Conroy, Bryan Callen, Brett Cullen, Bill Camp, Isabella Ferreira, Douglas Hodge, Glenn Fleshler, Josh Pais, Jolie Chan

Year: 2019

Runtime: 122 minutes

Country: US, Canada

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