JOKER

★★★★★

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - YOUR WEEKEND -

The Joker’s wild and plagued with a neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion that com­pels him to burst into fits of ma­ni­a­cal gig­gling in di­rec­tor Todd Phillips’s pro­foundly dis­turb­ing char­ac­ter study.

Co-writ­ten by Scott Sil­ver, this re­lent­lessly grim por­trait of men­tal ill­ness and so­ci­etal ne­glect bur­rows deep be­neath the translu­cent, bone-stretched skin of Bat­man’s ad­ver­sary, sev­eral years be­fore the Caped Cru­sader dons a cowl.

While Christo­pher Nolan’s brood­ing Dark Knight tril­ogy un­der­pinned mus­cu­lar thrills with sus­tained men­ace, earn­ing Heath Ledger a post­hu­mous Os­car as a schiz­o­phrenic clown de­void of em­pa­thy, Phillips’s deep-dive into the DC Comics uni­verse shrugs off the ac­tion-ori­ented de­mands of a con­ven­tional block­buster to fo­cus on the psy­cho­log­i­cal de­struc­tion of its chief an­tag­o­nist.

“Is it just me or is it get­ting cra­zier out there?” Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) asks an im­pas­sive so­cial worker at the be­gin­ning of the film.

Phoenix’s fe­ro­cious and un­com­pro­mis­ing per­for­mance gam­bols through a fug of delu­sions and hor­ri­fy­ing sel­f­re­al­i­sa­tion that gives birth to an an­ar­chis­tic rev­o­lu­tion­ary with noth­ing to lose.

Rub­bish bags clut­ter Gotham’s streets on the 10th day of a city­wide col­lec­tors’ strike as Arthur stu­diously ap­plies white face make-up and an ex­ag­ger­ated red smile. A gang of youths steals the ad­ver­tis­ing board he has been hired to twirl in colour­ful ap­parel and vi­ciously beats the men­tally un­sta­ble loner when he chases them down an al­ley.

Arthur re­turns home, blood­ied and bruised, to his ail­ing mother Penny (Frances Con­roy), a for­mer em­ployee of bil­lion­aire phi­lan­thropist Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) who has an­nounced his can­di­dacy for mayor.

Penny un­in­ten­tion­ally driz­zles scorn on her son’s dream of per­form­ing stand-up – “Don’t you have to be funny to be a co­me­dian?” – and Arthur seeks com­fort in the nightly broad­cast of talk show host Mur­ray Franklin (Robert De Niro), who he fan­ci­fully imag­ines as the dot­ing fa­ther he never had.

An im­promptu act of vi­o­lence on a sub­way train pro­pels Arthur into the glare of the me­dia’s eye. “Those of us who have made some­thing of our lives will al­ways look at those that haven’t, and see noth­ing but clowns,” sneers Thomas Wayne on the cam­paign trail.

As Gotham teeters on the brink of insurrecti­on and a young Bruce Wayne (Dante PereiraOl­son) sees the law­less­ness first­hand, Arthur be­comes a grin­ning poster boy for the down­trod­den, dis­carded and dis­en­fran­chised.

Joker is deeply dis­qui­et­ing, cap­tur­ing the anti-es­tab­lish­ment sen­ti­ment that has shaken main­stream po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ments to their foun­da­tion. An ema­ci­ated Phoenix elec­tri­fies ev­ery scene, drag­ging us kick­ing and silently scream­ing to the edge of in­san­ity.

Ex­plo­sions of vi­o­lence serve the tightly wound nar­ra­tive and are of­ten graphic, but no more so than the fi­nal 15 min­utes of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time... In Hol­ly­wood.

Like the per­sis­tent itch you can’t quite scratch, Phillips’s pic­ture com­mands force­ful, com­plete at­ten­tion and con­tin­ues to pucker the skin with goose­bumps long af­ter the end cred­its roll.

Joaquin Phoenix de­liv­ers a pow­er­ful per­for­mance as Arthur Fleck

Joaquin Phoenix, be­low, and Robert De Niro, above, in Todd Phillips’s Joker

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