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Arts and Entertainment Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 2 weeks ago

'Joker' depicts the evolution of a madman

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One of the most anticipated films of the year menaced its way to a box office record.

"Joker" is not a hero vs. villain movie but rather a study in the evolution of a madman. It's a role that Joaquin Phoenix was born to play and a performance you'll never forget.

Phoenix portrays Arthur Fleck, a rent-a-clown who's severely disturbed. He always carries a card with him that informs others that "He suffers from uncontrollable laughter." That's putting it mildly. Having never been happy in his entire life, Arthur is in revenge mode. An entry in his journal states, "I just hope my death makes more 'cents' than my life." It's an indication as to where Arthur is heading.

His dream is to become a stand-up comic, which we know will never be realized. He does manage to get a gig, but once on stage, he can't control his sardonic laughing. When a condescending late night show host, Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), gets his hands on a video depicting Arthur's excruciating performance, he runs it on air and later books him to be a guest. An ecstatic Arthur tells Murray that he wants to be introduced as "Joker." What happens next is anything but funny.

Director-writer Todd Phillips had his own take on what he wanted his version of "Joker" to be. Phoenix was in agreement, and the two collaborated on how they would proceed. Joker is an intensely horrifying human being and yet compassionate at times. He's an extremely loving son (almost Oedipal), but Mom (Frances Conroy) doesn't reciprocate. The mental health community fails him as well as a society that looks down upon him. But when Joker becomes an unlikely hero to those who feel disenfranchised by the wealthy, things get radically out of control in Gotham City. Think: clown chaos.

Phoenix totally owns this frightening film. You can't take your eyes off him for even a moment. His performance as a tortured soul is sadly captivating and way over the top. He has the innate ability to toy with the audience while relentlessly cackling and it never get old or irritating. A scene in which he flawlessly dances down a long stairway to "Rock and Roll" Part 2 is destined to become a great moment in filmmaking history. He's that good.

There are a few tasty teasers put forth in "Joker" that suggest this might not be the last we see of him. We can only hope. 

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