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Grim, violent 'Joker' is no laughing matter
REVIEW

Grim, violent 'Joker' is no laughing matter

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Linda Cook

Linda Cook

It gave me nightmares.

I do not say these words in jest: Think twice before you see “Joker,” because it may not be the movie for you.

Director Todd Phillips, left and Joaquin Phoenix - "Joker"

Director Todd Phillips, left and Joaquin Phoenix - "Joker"

This movie is rated “R.” It’s not something funny or quirky to enjoy with your family with its themes of abuse, madness and a ghastly, vicious society that erupts into violence at a moment’s notice.

Its grim tone is pitch-dark, its title character pathetic, tortured and brimming with brutality. This isn’t a comic book anti-hero movie. It’s the story of a major meltdown of an individual and society itself.

It offers up images you can’t un-see.

That said, it is beautifully directed by Todd Phillips (“The Hangover” movies.) Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is superb.

Phoenix, of course, is the titular character in 1980s Gotham City of a few decades back. He doesn’t become Joker until the last part of the film. When the movie opens, he’s a struggling clown and stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck, beaten down physically and mentally at nearly every turn.

While he performs with a sale sign outside a store that is going out of business, passing kids steal the placard. When he tries to retrieve it, they beat him mercilessly and leave him in the garbage-strewn streets.

He goes home to his mother (Frances Conroy, television’s “Six Feet Under”) in their crummy apartment. She sends letter after letter to Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen,) a wealthy man who is running for mayor. Arthur’s mother once worked for Wayne as a maid and thinks he will help her out.

In the meantime, Arthur’s job as a clown takes a turn for the worse while he tries to sort out his mental anguish with a therapist and prescriptions.

While class warfare wages on the streets – reminiscent of “The Purge” films – Arthur becomes more unstable. After loss upon loss, his mental turmoil builds to a disastrous crescendo.

Phillips’ film is a nod to the earlier work of Martin Scorsese, with the “Taxi Driver” look of the environment and a homage to “The King of Comedy,” in which DeNiro played Rupert Pupkin, a character fixated on being a late-night talk show host.

Phoenix’s performance is electrifying. I can think of no other actor who could give this interpretation of Joker the intensity it deserves. Every contortion of his face communicates as much, if not more, than a line of dialogue. It is an Oscar-worthy performance.

A terrific score by Emmy Award-winning composer Hildur Guðnadóttir adds to the tension.

Be prepared to shudder long after you've experienced a film that's no laughing matter.

You’ve been warned.

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.

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