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Earlier this week, the NYPD’s Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison told officers that the department plans to visibly station cops at theaters showing the Joaquin Phoenix-starring film. Now Deadline has learned that a significant undercover detachment will also be deployed to make sure nothing untoward occurs inside cinemas in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.
“This is 360-degree policing approach to ensure safety for ticket buyers in their seats, as well as on the streets,” a law enforcement official said of the strategy to have plain-clothed police in a number of theaters in America’s largest city starting with the October 3 previews and throughout the expected heavily attended weekend. “If something happens inside one of the screenings, we intend to be able to pacify the situation quickly and conclusively,” the well-placed source added, noting that large-scale and security-hefty events go off without a hitch in New York every day.
Still, concerns about threats have bedeviled this latest take on Batman’s arch nemesis since Joker debuted at the Venice Film Festival in late August. Set in a near-collapsing and crime-invested Gotham City of 1981, the Todd Phillips-directed and Golden Lion-winning Joker, which co-stars Robert De Niro, pays distinct homage to Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver and 1982’s King of Comedy – both of which featured his The Irishman lead De Niro and both of which were stationed in a decaying NYC.
“There are no specific or credible threats at this time and these events will continue to be closely monitored,” a NYPD spokesperson told Deadline in an official statement this week about the opening of Joker. “Any additional personnel will be deployed as needed. Members of the public are encouraged to help police in the shared responsibility of public safety. If you see something, say something by calling 911.”
Pretty standard stuff and similar to what the LAPD and other law enforcement organizations have said in recent days. However, it is that “additional personal will be deployed as needed” that may contain the true scope of the plans for NYC’s Finest this weekend.
After a New York Film Festival screening and onstage Q&A featuring Phillips and Phoenix on Wednesday, Joker is set to be released in 45 locations around the five boroughs starting Thursday afternoon. Still, Joker seemingly lacks the promotional presence in NYC compared with what it has on numerous billboards, bus stop shelters and public transit wraps in Los Angeles and other cities.
Anecdotally, Deadline could only find consequential advertising for the film blaring down on Times Square. Amid the visual overload of the tourist-magnet location, the building-sized video screen ironically looms over the small NYPD precinct at 43rd and 7th Avenue. That location that is a mere hop, skip and a jump from the AMC Empire 25 cinema, among the multiplexes showing Joker this week.
The first Batman-related film to be given a R-rating by the MPAA, the graphic violence of Joker has raised temperatures, eyebrows and more. In a year of mass shootings across the nation in public spaces, the film has also attracted misgivings from families impacted by the gun-fueled fatalities in Aurora, CO at a July 2012 midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
On September 24, Warner Bros in response sought to address those concerns and promised “it is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.” However, out of sensitivity to the victims of that terrible night over seven years ago, Joker will not be shown in Aurora. Additionally, while the security-heavy and press-contained Los Angeles premiere went off without incident on September 27, theater chains including AMC and Landmark have issued bans on masks being worn by patrons of Joker and other concealments.
“Guests are welcome to come dressed in costume, but we do not permit masks or face paint,” said AMC of its Joker policy. “AMC does not permit weapons or items that would make other guests feel uncomfortable or detract from the movie-going experience.”
Adding even more urgency, a missive from the U.S. Army last week put commanders at Fort Sill in Oklahoma on guard about a Texas law enforcement report spotlighting seemingly Joker-related “disturbing and very specific chatter in the dark web.” The incel intel centered on the potential targeting of an unknown theater for a mass shooting during the weekend of Joker‘s release.
Spurred on by FBI information, there also was a September 18 safety notice email sent out to military personal about violence at Joker screenings. “Run if you can,” the correspondence told service men and women about what to do if a shooting situation occurs in a theater. “If you’re stuck, hide (also known as ‘sheltering in place’), and stay quiet,” the email added. “If a shooter finds you, fight with whatever you can.”
Contacted by Deadline about the military-identified perceived threat and police plans in NYC and elsewhere in the country for Joker’s opening weekend on more than 4,000 screens, the FBI was circumspect.
“While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI is in touch with our law enforcement and private sector partners about the online posts,” a spokesperson for the bureau said. “As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activity to law enforcement.”