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Gotham City history has once again been re-imagined for the silver screen with 2019's Joker. a heartbreaking and unabashedly ferocious retooling of one of the most popular nemeses of the Caped Crusader that might finally, after three previous nominations, win Joaquin Phoenix his first Oscar.

Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a mentally unbalanced young man who has returned to his work as a party clown and aspiring stand-up after some time being institutionalized. He frightens friends and strangers alike due to an alleged medical condition that makes him laugh uncontrollably when he really doesn't want to. He loses his job as a party clown when he takes a gun to a children's hospital where he is entertaining. His life is now reduced to the care and maintenance of his invalid mother, who sends Arthur's life into a tailspin when she reveals that he might be the illegitimate son of millionaire Thomas Wayne, which would make him the half-brother of Batman. Fleck also finds himself used by a cocky late night talk show host (Robert De Niro) and the center of a media frenzy when he murders three young men on a subway.

The Batman legacy has gone through dozens of reincarnations since his first appearance in comic books. There was the ABC television series that aired twice a week that was turned into a movie in 1966 followed by Tim Burton's two films and the three films by Christopher Nolan. In the 1989 Tim Burton film, we were introduced to Jack Napier, an insane bad guy who killed Bruce Wayne's parents, but this character has been scrapped and reinvented by director and co-screenwriter Todd Phillips, the man behind the Hangover franchise, who has given the joker a new name, a new face, and an entire new backstory that was one of the most tragic and heartbreaking character studies I have ever seem, made all the more powerful by the fact that the guy had a condition that caused uncontrollable laughing and there was absolutely nothing about this guy's life to laugh at.

It's the ironic tragedies of Arthur Fleck's life that made this story so powerful and so terribly sad. This was not your typical comic book movie, rich with amazing CGI special effects and a lot of fancy electronics, gadgetry and villains of the future. This was a sad and simple story of a man whose tragic life has driven him to a point of insanity that he himself is completely unaware of. This re-thinking of the character actually hearkened back to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight more than it did to Jack Nicholson. He reminded me so much of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. We watch people symbolically kick sand in this guy's face for the entire running time and the few times he fights back, we are behind him for the most part, but eventually, he does go too far. On the other hand, the over the top finale does find Arthur hailed as a folk hero and, just like Rupert Pupkin in another De Niro film, The King of Comedy, I'm not sure if this was really appropriate.

Phillips is to be applauded for his expert mounting of this powerful story that's strength is in its simplicity and a Best Director nomination should be in the bag for him. It goes without saying that Joaquin Phoenix will win his first Oscar for this wrecking ball of a performance that he turns in as Arthur Fleck. This performance is explosive, unpredictable, and, at times, had me fighting tears. Phoenix is also to be applauded for the physical transformation he went through for the role, including the dropping of 52 pounds, which made the actor appear emaciated. Robert De Niro also nails his role as the talk show host as does Frances Conroy as Arthur's mother. Though I found the conclusion a little troubling, this film was a triumph for Todd Phillips and the fabulous Joaquin Phoenix.