‘Joker’ takes its cue from downbeat 1970’s Hollywood films. Often intense character studies, these stayed in the memory such as Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’. ‘Joker’ owes much to that movie as it has the same grimy, hard-hitting feel plus its lead actor Robert DeNiro. It’s not what you’d expect from a comic-book adaption, but ‘Joker’ revels in striking out in ways that would make its comic character laugh with glee.

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a comedian looking for his big break. Getting nowhere despite his talents, Fleck’s frustrations sees him turn to crime. Painting his face with clown-like features, he renames himself Joker. One of his targets is Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro). Chaos quickly ensues with Gotham City’s residents cowering in fear at the self-dubbed ‘Clown Prince of Crime.’

Todd Phillips directs this daring version of Batman’s well known adversary. Like its subject, ‘Joker’ crashes through the screen with anarchic force. This is almost entirely due to Phillips’ astute direction and Phoenix’s magnetic performance. He morphs into the psychopathic killer with steely precision. Every movement feels exact as Fleck descends into a maelstrom of madness.

Those familiar with the non-stop action of the Batman films may be disappointed by ‘Joker’. It’s more of a psychological thriller than the usual comic-book film. That’s a very good thing as the script’s unpredictability effectively mirrors Fleck’s haphazard life. From the costuming, music and general tone, ‘Joker’ is sure to stir debate but linger long after the credits roll.

‘Joker’ has already caused controversy but is well worth seeing. Phoenix shows his acting skills with ease, as does DeNiro. Future films in this genre have their work cut out in matching the atmosphere of this character study of a truly disturbed individual.

Rating out of 10: 8

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