The life of Charles Chaplin (Robert Downey jnr) began in poverty in England, ended in solitude in Switzerland, while his career was both ignited and doused in Hollywood. Starting as a child trouper on the music hall stage, where his mother (Geraldine Chaplin) also worked until her mental illness prevented her, Chaplin was touring America with the Karno show when he was invited to Los Angeles by Mack Sennett (Dan Aykroyd) to be funny on silent film. Chaplin quickly soared to global success with his natural talent - but behind the camera his womanising made his life complicated and traumatic. As he went from one young wife to another, he failed to find real happiness until he met Oona (Moira Kelly) with whom he spent the last years of his life in Vevey, Switzerland. In the 50s he was refused re-entry to America, thanks to J. Edgar Hoover's (Kevin Dunn) suspicions of his communist sympathies - and in the 70s he was invited back with a special Academy Award.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Whether you're familiar with Chaplin's life, his work or his women, you will almost certainly have seen images of the Tramp that was his cinematic signature, the character he created for the silent screen, at once poverty stricken, humble, yet proud, a loser yet a survivor. Chaplin created the Tramp by bits of wardrobe, make up, a false moustache and body language. He added the situations for the Tramp to find himself in, and launched a million smiles around the world.
Robert Downey jnr captures much of the screen persona in moments that are gems in this film, and his technique, as the young Charlie moves to America and starts losing his lower class English accent is a study in dramatic art. Downey jnr is always remarkable, and Chaplin fans will lap up most of his screentime.
The screenplay tries ambitiously to paraphrase an amazingly full life into 2 hours, the only things missing are his mother giving birth to him and his funeral. But perhaps that's inevitable; his life is irresistible copy. The rags to riches story, the creative genius story, the multiple marriages story, the political story . . . All true, but the thing that drove Charlie into trouble and through his career, was sex. Richard Attenborough is too polite to show this, but even the dryly accurate David Robinson biography points us in that direction. It's unavoidable: barely legal girls were his downfall, and he married one at the drop of his pants.
The film's structure is excellent, especially at the beginning. We see virtually nothing of his films or his international success, but are referred to them. It's not until the end, when the Academy presents an homage at the 1972 Oscars, that we see footage from his greatest films, like The Gold Rush, The Kid, Modern Times, etc. This placement works to pump up the emotional impact of the final reel, but it robs the film of much of its context at the start.
The same thing with his sex drive: we are referred to it, apart from one vaguely provocative scene with Mildred Harris (Milla Jovovich).
Anthony Hopkins plays a fictional editor from the publisher of his autobiography (which was used for material) to draw out more of the details, more of the emotional life he led - without much success, as it turns out. But these flaws aside, the film does manage to paint a picture of a complex man whose life had a major impact on millions - he made us smile.
Published: July 29, 2004
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CHAPLIN: DVD (M)
CAST: Robert Downey jnr, Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys, John Thaw, Moira Kelly, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Kline, Maria Pitillo, Milla Jovovich, Kevin Dunn, Deborah Moore, Diane Lane
PRODUCER: Richard Attenborough, Mario Kassar
DIRECTOR: Richard Attenborough
SCRIPT: William Boyd, Bryan Forbes, William Goldman (book by David Robinson, story by Diana Hawkins; book by Charles Chaplin)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sven Nykvist
EDITOR: Anne V Coates
MUSIC: John Barry
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stuart Craig
RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes
PRESENTATION: 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced); DD 2.0
SPECIAL FEATURES: None; Subtitles: English, Portuguese, Dutch
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
DVD RELEASE: July 28, 2004