Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Dan Aykroyd, Geraldine Chaplin
Writers: Brian Forbes/William Boyd/William Goldman
Director: Richard Attenborough
Distributor: Tri-Star Pictures
Robert Downey Jr. has been on a bit of a comeback since the Iron Man/Tropic Thunder combo back in the summer of 2008. He has been praised left and right, and stands to make a whole bunch of money when Sherlock Holmes is released Christmas Day. The thing is...I never understood where exactly he came back from. Growing up, I saw him in bit parts in movies like Weird Science or as the star of Heart and Souls, and sure he was passable. His performances last summer were flat out amazing and everything, but what promise did he exactly squander during his drug-filled 90's? That's the question I sought to answer when I streamed the 1992 biopic Chaplin on Netflix.

Chaplin follows the life of famous silent film star Charlie Chaplin, from starting out on Vaudeville, to hitting it big in silent pictures, to his scandalous personal life. The movie is narrated by Downey as a much older Chaplin in the 60's, telling it to his (fictional) autobiographer George Hayden (Anthony Hopkins).

Chaplin is an amazing movie. Yes, it's not just good or great...it's amazing. The life of Charlie Chaplin completely takes you and for two and a half hours you are hanging on every moment that happens. The film covers all the ground it can, from Chaplin's love of film and his perfectionist ways that cost him many of his wives, to his love life itself, where he seemed to skew toward a...erm...younger crowd. No stone seems to be left unturned.

The film looks beautiful. Attenborough is a great director (and an awesome dinosaur theme park creator), and the period piece looks like it could have been filmed in that time. They spared no expense, and it all looks very legitimate and real.

Downey as Chaplin may possibly be the best biopic performance I have ever seen. He completely becomes Charlie, from the mannerisms during his skits, to his outbursts and whacky ways, to even the English accent which makes you forget Downey is from the United States. He lit my computer screen on fire with his performance, and I realize just what talent he had squandered back in the 90's after this. Downey may be one of the greatest actors to have ever existed, if you judge straight from this performance.

The rest of the cast was absolutely phenomenal too. Aykroyd as the director who discovers Chaplin is amazing, which is weird to say because he generally does not give a great performance post-80's on screen. Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie's real life daughter) plays her own granddaughter, Charlie's mom, and completely knocks it out of the park. I was unaware previous to this that Geraldine had actually been a real actress beforehand and thought Attenborough had just found her hidden talents. Paul Rhys, Kevin Kline, David Duchovny (yes seriously)...there's just so much talent in this picture that it's hard to give them all justice. Hell, even Maria Pitillo (the love interest from 1998's Godzilla) does a great job! Just go to imdb and check out the cast. It's mesmerizing to see how many great stars are in this picture.

Being a negative nancy, I do have a few quibbles though: namely when Chaplin is a teenager, they dubbed Downey's voice over the actor playing him. Now while it makes sense in theory to do this, it's very distracting in the execution and had me rolling my eyes early on. Also, some of the ways the film goes from scene to scene are a little wonky, using the dream sequence dissolve and other wipes that were probably cool back then but in 2009 feel dated and weird. These are minor quibbles though, and do not take away from the film in the slightest.

Chaplin is destined to be a classic film, and will be the movie I now judge other biopics on. Downey should've become huge after this, but we all know what happened. I'm glad he's got another chance, because after watching him completely become Charlie Chaplin...he should win at least 15 Oscars before his career is over. Do yourself a favor and watch this film.

Final Verdict:

8/24/2014 08:43:54 pm

I agree with what you say about this film, which is particularly poignant today - the day we hear of the sad passing of its director Sir Richard Attenborough.
I read that you noticed that the young Chaplin's voice was dubbed, but did you spot that the old Chaplin's voice is actually Sir Richard Attenborough? I do not know if this is common knowledge, and maybe it's my imagination, but a sonic alarm went off when I heard the old Downey's voice and, as I listened, my sound engineering experience told me this was Sir Richard's voice. Have a listen again and tell me what you think.
Kind regards,
David Hamilton-Smith


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