Chaplin, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the legendary silent film star, marks the 30th anniversary of its theatrical release in 1992.
I planned to watch the film earlier this year but there were some sync issues on the recording. As such, I watched it two weeks ago on HBO Max before the film leaves the streaming service. While I like Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the silent film star (flaws and all), the script leaves some disappointment. It’s disappointing when one looks at Chaplin’s life. I mean, it’s already one of those films that spans his entire lifetime with a fictional George Hayden (Anthony Hopkins) interviewing the comedian in his later years. I understand why they go this route but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. What they should have done was found a time in Chaplin’s life and focus on that point in time. Most biopics suffer in this regard. This film is no exception.
Chaplin gets his start in England before making his way to America, where he first works for Mack Sennett (Dan Aykroyd). With Sennett being the king of comedy, everyone was getting their start with him at the time. Basically, the film turns into a Wiki biography with some dramatic liberties taken. Audiences will meet his first love and see all of his wives on screen. There’s also the drama with the Bureau of Investigation–later, the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover (Kevin Dunn) has it out for Chaplin. I do wonder what the rest of his career would have looked like without Hoover having a vendetta against him.
The film fades to black with Chaplin arriving to a standing ovation upon receiving an honorary Academy Award in 1972. Unfortunately, they take dramatic license in the moments leading up to it. While they have him being wheeled out to the podium, word has it that he walked without the aid of a wheelchair in real life. The highlight reel makes great use of the archival clips by inserting them during the tribute. There are archival clips sprinkled throughout the film.
In watching Chaplin, I found myself wanting to revisit some of his movies, especially The Great Dictator. It’s not surprising that Charlie’s brother, Sydney, says that nobody wanted to see a film about Adolf Hitler. Truth be told, the film received quite a bit of controversy upon release. In fact, the filmmaker had to defend it upon release. In his later years, the comedian would express regret because he did not know how serious the situation was at the time. One thing to note about their conversation is that Charlie refers to Sydney as a Jew. This might be because of the rumors that transpired after The Great Dictator. To be fair, there was wide belief at one time that he was Jewish.
In another universe, the film could have starred either Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Jim Carrey, or even Tom Cruise. I could maybe see Robin Williams in the role but I have a hard time seeing Billy Crystal in the role. Resemblance or not, it’s even harder seeing Tom Cruise in the role because one really does not think of the actor when it comes to comedies.
There’s no denying that Robert Downey Jr. turns in a stellar performance but Chaplin plays it too much by the numbers.
DIRECTOR: Richard Attenborough
SCREENWRITERS: William Boyd and Bryan Forbes and William Goldman
CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Dan Aykroyd, Geraldine Chaplin, Kevin Dunn, Anthony Hopkins, Milla Jovovich, Moira Kelly, Kevin Kline, Diane Lane, Penelope Ann Miller, Paul Rhys, John Thaw, Marisa Tomei, Nancy Travis, James Woods
TriStar released Chaplin in theaters on December 25, 1992. Grade: 3.5/5
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