DVD REVIEW: Chaplin-15th Anniversary Edition

Chaplin- 15th Anniversary Edition
Directed by Richard Attenborough

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Charlie Chaplin was as complex and idiosyncratic as they come. So when director Richard Attenborough decided to make a film about his life, he knew he had a serious task on his hands in finding an actor to play the comic genius. Robert Downey Jr. didn’t just rise to the challenge; he became Charlie Chaplin and his performance, more than any other single element, is what makes the film Chaplin a success.

The film itself is told through a series of flashbacks as Chaplin is completing his autobiography with a fictional publisher played by Anthony Hopkins. The story begins with his early career in vaudeville living in poverty with his brother Sydney (Paul Rhys) and mentally fragile mother Hannah (played by Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine) in England and runs quickly through his early career in film. The focus then shifts to Chaplin’s numerous relationships and subsequent marriages to young (sometimes underage) women and the close friend he had in Douglas Fairbanks played by Kevin Kline. Later we see his more social films develop as the great depression hits, as Hitler takes power, and then ultimately his deportation.

In actuality, the biggest issue with the film is that it takes on too much in covering all of Chaplin’s life and ends up giving important moments less than they deserve. In reality, Chaplin’s life was one of many contradictions and oddities which is difficult to explain in such a short span (it’s not a surprise that the first cut of the film was nearly 4 hours long). The film is also overly sentimental at times with a little too much “magic” and not enough reality. Even with the films faults, Downey’s characterization is brilliant and the life of Chaplin is interesting enough to always make it worthwhile.

A Chaplin fan will appreciate Downey’s ability to nail the timing, gestures, and overall feel of Chaplin from the early years to old age. Although his performance is the pièce de résistance, he is joined onscreen by a phenomenal cast including: Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, James Woods, Diane Lane, David Duchovny, and Moira Kelly as well as a 16 year old Milla Jovovich. The anniversary edition DVD also includes 3 documentary features on the film and an interesting home movie of Chaplin doing impersonations while sailing to Catalina Island. The film, despite its issues, is an interesting and insightful look at one of the ultimate greats in film and well worth the purchase.

Tim Needles

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