"Joker" is a movie that believes plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. Director and co-writer Todd Phillips, who made the "Hangover" movies, has crafted a movie that borrows heavily from better movies he doesn't quite seem to understand. There are explicit references to Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and "King of Comedy" along with "Death Wish," "Network" and others. Apologists will call it "homage," but at some point it's just unoriginal. 

 
But that's not to say it isn't compelling and interesting at times.
 
Joaquin Phoenix is acting hard here. For a picture that desperately wants to be the anti-comic book movie, Phoenix is nonetheless given somewhat of a cartoonish character to play with lots of slow-motion dancing and a tourette's-like affliction causing him to laugh uncontrollably.
 
But you can't take your eyes off him. He's worth the price of admission, and "Joker" is very much a character study trying to provide a realistic backstory to the most famous comic villain of all time. Phoenix is Arthur Fleck, a clown-for-hire who lives with his ailing mother and wants to be a stand-up comedian. The constant rejection he faces drives him into madness. 
 
It's a dark, dreary picture and very well made. Phillips understands color, shadow and how to make his camera do the talking. But the problem is, the movie isn't really saying much until the end where it's literally spelled out on protest signs and in a character's speech. 
 
To it's credit, "Joker" does feel like a movie of its time as audiences want Hollywood to make movies that reflect the darkness and violence of our reality - just as long as it's a comic book character we like.