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How Robert De Niro Actually Feels About The Joker Controversy

Robert De Niro has some things to say about the things other people are saying about his new movie. 

Over the course of his decades-long career in cinema, De Niro has played everything from hard-nosed gangsters and bullish boxers to over-protective fathers and emotionally damaged war vets. He even threw down against a certain heroic moose and squirrel duo in a kid-friendly comedy. This year, De Niro is charging right back into the "for your consideration" fray with Todd Phillips' gritty Gotham-set character origin story Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the man who becomes the titular character. And while Phillips' dark take on the Clown Prince of Crime seems primed to set the box office ablaze and net a few coveted awards in the process, Joker has also found itself wrapped up in some intense controversy of late.

The contention surrounds the rampant violence and questionable morality that reportedly play a major role in Joker and tend to accompany the character himself in whatever form he takes. Those factors led the surviving family members of the victims of the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado — which tragically unfolded during a screening of Christopher Nolan's trilogy-capping The Dark Knight Rises — to pen a heartfelt letter to studio Warner Bros. regarding their fears that Joker may inadvertently inspire copycat acts of violence. They further urged the studio to follow the lead of many other national companies in ceasing financial support of politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association (NRA), and to consider throwing more support behind groups who back the victims of gun violence.

In the last week alone, Phillips, Phoenix, and Warner Bros. have all opened up with their on particular views regarding the matter. And now, chatting to Variety during the red carpet event for another of his upcoming films The Irishman, Robert De Niro finally offered his own take on the Joker controversy.

De Niro, who plays a talk show host named Murray Franklin in the film, had this to say: "I know there's controversy. I think some of the things that were being said about Warner Bros. giving money, not endorsing — or whatever it was about the NRA — I think is right. Whatever people were saying connected with the Aurora theater or whatever organization it was."

But then, De Niro has been quite vocal lately

De Niro's words about the Joker controversy will hardly come as a surprise to folks who have been watching the news in recent years. The actor's unflinching political perspectives and open criticisms of the American government have in turn made him a target of politicians and media conglomerates on the opposing side of those views. Needless to say, but it's probably a good thing that he wasn't quite so frank in response to the Joker controversy as he has been about other topics. De Niro wisely didn't use the moment to grandstand or stump for his own views, instead simply offering his own support of the families and their worries.

As for the current controversy, the Joker — despite always being shown as a homicidal maniac — seems to inspire an odd sort of anarchic theology amongst fans. The character's rock-star-like aura seemed to reach a new level with Heath Ledger's unforgettable turn as the man behind the makeup in 2008's The Dark Knight. While the connections between that film and the actions of the Aurora shooter remain tenuous, many still believe the Joker served as inspiration for the violent act. As such, some folks also believe this new take on the character may make him even more dangerous.

On the other hand, just as many people see no reason to worry about Joker, so this may go down as a case of much ado about nothing. At this point, there doesn't appear to be any movement to stop Joker from being released, and even the Aurora families haven't called for a boycott of the film. While Warner Bros. remains steadfast that Joker in no way attempts "to hold this character up as a hero," the studio is urging people to withhold judgement until they've actually seen the film, with a spokesperson recently offering, "A lot has been said about Joker, and we just feel it's time for people to see the film."

As for De Niro, aside from the controversy, he's had nothing but positive things to say about his experiences on Joker, stating simply, "I like Todd Phillips and Joaquin. They're terrific to work with." 

With any luck, the energy surrounding Joker will remain similarly positive, and the film will arrive with little more than a heady dose of entertainment value, a dash of societal insight, and a stream of awards season success. But of course, we won't get a real sense of how Joker plays until the film hits theaters on October 4. Here's hoping there are happy faces all around.