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Joaquin Phoenix provides a gripping performance as the title character in “Joker.”

Connor’s take: Grim and grotesque, “Joker” does a solid job at giving the classic comic book character a reinvention, although the story and film itself doesn’t reach new, innovative ground. Score: 3.5/5 stars Rating: R Runtime: 2hours, 2 minutes Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Robert De Niro, Marc Maron

Perhaps the most controversial film release of 2019, “Joker” offers up a gruesome, grotesque tale about a man succumbing to mental illness with mostly successful results — even if it takes influence from Martin Scorsese too heavily.

“Joker” tells the story of failed comedian Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), who seeks any kind of human connection he can as he tries to live his life in crime-ridden Gotham City. Isolated, consistently bullied and tossed aside by society, Fleck begins a descent into madness, a path that will transform him into the pop culture villain known as the Joker.

Not worth the controversy its release has stirred in the headlines, “Joker” is a solid film that offers an intriguing, different take on the classic DC Comics villain. Instead of focusing on the character’s relationship with Batman, the film simply tells a story of a man driven to madness and emerging as the Clown Prince of Crime. Director Todd Phillips decides to focus on this Joker for the majority of the film, with prominent actors including Robert De Niro being used only as background characters to guide the plot along.

It’s an interesting film and there are themes on mental illness introduced that are cause for further discussion. However, the overall direction of the film does end up coming off as more of a ripoff of prominent Martin Scorsese films such as “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.” It is that Scorsese influence that stops the film from being its own thing. The plot and setting are firmly put together, but we have seen this kind of film before.

Where the film rises above its flaws is the immaculate performance of Phoenix, who is magnetic whenever he is on the screen. His nervous laughter builds and builds as the movie progresses, transforming into a vicious, evil cackle by the film’s finale. Phoenix does a magnificent job portraying a man who crumbles to evil and that path of destruction is like a tragic car accident. You can’t help but watch the entire event unfold before your eyes.

Ultimately, while the plot and film don’t reach new ground, Phoenix’s interpretation of the comic book character is a huge success, with the actor portraying the Joker with a tragic humility we haven’t seen before on the big screen.

As Warner Bros. continues to produce more comic book movies, “Joker” is proof the studio doesn’t need to try and build a cinematic universe as others have.

Connor Behrens is a reporter at The Facts.

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