(US/Canada - 2019)
Directed by Todd Phillips. Written by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Marc Maron, Brian Tyree Henry, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Josh Pais, Rocco Luna, April Grace, Sondra James, Murphy Guyer, Douglas Hodge, Dante Pereira-Olson, Sharon Washington, Chris Redd, Hannah Gross. (R, 121 mins)
After a month of thinkpieces and endless debate, praise, hand-wringing, and outrage following its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, the revisionist origin story JOKER is, at this point, pretty much a scorching hot take that happens to be accompanied by the incidental release of a movie. Certain to provoke divisive reactions and possibly more, the film has admirable aspirations of being a loving homage to the gritty NYC of old, particularly two Martin Scorsese classics in 1976's TAXI DRIVER and 1983's THE KING OF COMEDY. It gets it right for a while, starting with the old-school 1970s Warner Bros. logo and various pop culture indicators (BLOW OUT and ZORRO, THE GAY BLADE on a theater marquee, and posters for WOLFEN, EXCALIBUR, ARTHUR, and DRAGONSLAYER) placing the setting in 1981 and, for the most part, successfully nailing the period detail. While partially indebted to the classic 1988 Alan Moore/Brian Bolland graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, JOKER's title character as a cackling, chain-smoking amalgam of TAXI DRIVER's Travis Bickle and THE KING OF COMEDY's Rupert Pupkin, with a bit of DEATH WISH's Paul Kersey and the infamous 1984 Bernhard Goetz NYC subway shooting, an incident reminiscent of a sequence in DEATH WISH a decade earlier.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE.