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Equal parts heartbreaking and disturbing, Joaquin Phoenix's 'Joker' looks incredible

The first trailer for Todd Phillips' origin tale is online and has turned heads of skeptics, including yours truly.
Credit: Warner Brothers

"Is it just me or is it getting crazier out there?"

Once upon a time, years before he gave Batman a run for his money, The Joker was a stand-up comedian who loved his mother more than anyone. Someone who dressed up as a clown, but did so with cheer and laughter in the hopes of spreading positivity in such a dark place known as Gotham City. 

The great thing about Todd Phillips' new take on the iconic character, titled "Joker", is that it explores an unknown area. After four actors offered their vision on the comic book villain, spread out over four decades, Joaquin Phoenix gets perhaps the most innovative assignment yet: finding out who Arthur was and what exactly made him break bad. 

The trailer is delightfully creepy, using classical music and dark gray and grimy tones and colors to show us a Gotham before Batman came into play. We see Arthur spinning signs on the street before getting roughed up by strangers in between buildings and on the subway. We see him lovingly care for his mother, dancing with her and smiling. A woman asking him if it helps to have someone to talk to, which Phoenix responds to with a mischievous smile. 

You also see Arthur presumably on a date with a young woman(Zazie Beetz from "Deadpool 2"!), but also get a weird staredown from Brian Tyree Henry's attendant at the psychiatric ward at Arkham. 

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The laugh of Fleck is put on display at a comedy show and on the train, and I like that it's different from the legendary howls of Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. We see the tortured soul trying to make it work in a chaotic world, but finding no way to stay happy. When life gives you rotten lemons, perhaps you create chaos with them. 

Here's the thing. Ledger's take was both brilliant and overpowering, creating a mystique that few wanted messed with. Leto's half-baked attempt in Suicide Squad was frowned upon because it wasn't given enough room to breathe and came off as a high school play ham-off by an actor who was trying too hard to be like Ledger's guy. Phoenix's work here looks NOTHING like Ledger's Joker or any other before him. It's wholly original and chilling, disturbing in the most perfect way. Judging from the look and methods here, Phoenix leaned into it. 

Instead of giving us another caricature, Phillips wants to give us a different look at the character. He wants to go back before the madness began, showing us the pulse of the change instead of merely rehashing the retribution that followed. He wouldn't be my first pick for the job. David Fincher came to mind when the project was announced. However, unconventional directors are usually the right one for an origin tale. Phillips had to convince Warner Brothers to let him go down this path, and from the looks of the first trailer, it looks like he hit a home run ... and flipped the bat. 

Phoenix is one of the best actors in the business, never playing the same character twice and creating sympathy in the most unusual ways with his portrayals. If you had asked me who else could pull some life out of the Joker, he would be on the short list, and most likely, near the top of it. 

"Joker" arrives in theaters this October, just in time for the kickoff of awards season, and with this teaser trailer, you bet this one will be up for some accolades. Last year, a Peter Farrelly film won Best Picture. Will 2019 show a Todd Phillips film win the award? We shall see. 

I was skeptical about this movie. After watching the trailer a few times, I can say the skepticism is gone and a terrifying need to see the film has replaced it. 

In the words of Ledger's Joker, "here ... we ... go!"

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