No joking, Joaquin Phoenix's comic book villain is a masterpiece: BRIAN VINER ...

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() Joker (Certificate TBC) 

Rating:

Gotham is teetering on the brink of civil strife and it turns out to be Arthur, of all insignificant citizens, who nudges it over the edge. The man wanted for murder had a painted clown face, and suddenly clown masks are everywhere, a symbol of proletarian anger against Wayne and other masters of the universe

Gotham is teetering on the brink of civil strife and it turns out to be Arthur, of all insignificant citizens, who nudges it over the edge. The man wanted for murder had a painted clown face, and suddenly clown masks are everywhere, a symbol of proletarian anger against Wayne and other masters of the universe

A film telling the story of how ’s arch-enemy came into being suggests a barrage of computer-generated effects propelled by an enormous budget. 

That might spell triumph at the box-office, but it’s not usually the sort of film that wins awards. Happily, Joker is not that sort of film. 

There’s not a special effect in sight. The budget wasn’t huge. 

Joaquin Phoenix, extraordinary in the title role, does not offer the standard comic-book caricature of villainy.

And it might well win the main prize at the Venice Film Festival, where it premiered on Saturday evening, for the simple reason that it’s a stunning movie. 

I mean that almost in a literal sense. I emerged from the cinema as if pole-axed, and I wasn’t alone.

Joker is a thunderously powerful character study of a man with a mental illness, and a ferocious indictment of a society that doesn’t treat the mentally ill with the same compassion it shows to, say, cancer sufferers.

That might make it sound worryingly like a conscience-driven cinematic lecture, but it’s not Ken Loach behind the camera, it’s Todd Phillips, who directed the Hangover films.

Joker is above all an exercise in entertainment. Indeed, I have rarely been so grippingly entertained.

Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, who lives with his fragile mother (Frances Conroy) in a ramshackle apartment building in Gotham City. 

It is 1981. Gotham, of course, is New York City, blighted by crime, uncollected garbage and industrial unrest, in gossamer-thin disguise.

Joaquin Phoenix, extraordinary in the title role, does not offer the standard comic-book caricature of villainy. And it might well win the main prize at the Venice Film Festival, where it premiered on Saturday evening, for the simple reason that it’s a stunning movie

Joaquin Phoenix, extraordinary in the title role, does not offer the standard comic-book caricature of villainy. And it might well win the main prize at the Venice Film Festival, where it premiered on Saturday evening, for the simple reason that it’s a stunning movie

A rich industrialist called Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is campaigning to become mayor to get Gotham back on its feet. 

Those of you who recall the origin story should note that he has a young son called Bruce.

Arthur, meanwhile, is just about holding down a job as a professional clown, available for cheap promotional stunts, children’s hospital visits, that

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