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Joker (IMAX)


Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Brett Cullen, Sharon Washington

Director: Todd Phillips

Thoroughly nasty, violent and unpleasant, but compelling viewing, Phillips' Oscar-tipped film examines the genesis of Batman's deadliest enemy. Arthur Fleck (his locker says 'P Fleck'), exceptionally well played by Phoenix, is a deeply disturbed man in early middle age, who (like his mother - played by Conroy - whom he looks after in their fleapit apartment) suffers from long-term mental illness, as well as a medical condition causing uncontrollable cackling laughter.

Currently, he works as a clown-for-hire and harbours ambitions of becoming a stand-up comedian; the opening scene establishes him as a sympathetic character as he is beaten up by teenage tearaways while advertising a store in his clown's outfit - although he will lose some of that sympathy as the film goes on.

Arthur is on countless bottles of pills and confesses to his social worker (Washington) that 'I just don't want to feel so bad any more.' But that is not to be, and his downward spiral accelerates when a co-worker gives him a gun for protection. Madness and murder coalesce when he shoots three drunken city types who torment first a girl and then himself on the subway.

There's also a pretty neighbour (Beetz), over whom he develops an obsession (it's hard sometimes to discern from Arthur's fevered mind what is real and what he is imagining) and a talkshow host (De Niro), who once brought him up on stage as a young man.

The camera concentrates on Phoenix's face - huge on the IMAX screen - as every little tic and grimace contrives to flesh out an incredibly detailed portrayal that's as repellent as it is compulsive - although the sheer intensity of this gets a bit extreme at times, and the film can't quite escape the faint tang of self-importance.

The ending's a mite flashy too, but Sinatra's faintly creepy rendition of Send in the Clowns over the end credits restores the mental imbalance.

David Quinlan

USA/Canada 2019. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Colour by Company 3.
124 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 30 Sep 2019