Joker ★★★★

Though it seems borne of a gimmick - lower-budgeted, grittily dramatic take on a comic book character that eschews most connections to its originating text - Todd Phillip's "Joker" bears out as a fully realized, haunting origin story of one of DC's most notorious creations. Boasting an impactful lead performance and commitment to its dramatic intent, Phillips' film makes for a worthy experience.

Focusing on put-upon Arthur Fleck, "Joker" follows as Fleck transforms from bullied sad-sack to murderous clown known to audiences as Gotham City's Joker. The narrative's ability, however, the peer beneath the layers of Fleck's transition is what gives the film depth. That depth, buoyed by a completely immersed Joaquin Phoenix as Fleck, gives the film an emotional, political, and cultural backbone that most other comic book films can not come close to claiming.

Phillips places his film in a turn-of-the-seventies Gotham City whose juxtaposition of filth and prosperity create the ideal crucible for Fleck's rebirth. The production moves in fits and starts of violent energy that mirrors the grungy beats of its protagonist.

Sad, grimy, and riveting, "Joker" unrolls the canvas of the successful comic book film further than that of the action-adventure-fantasy. Phillips creates a grim drama and something that needs no Easter eggs or textual references to make its engaging mark.

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