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Chaplin: 15th Anniversary Edition DVD Review

Chaplin: 15th Anniversary Edition

October 17, 2008

Director: Richard Attenborough,
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Dan Aykroyd, Geraldine Chaplin, Kevin Dunn, Anthony Hopkins, Milla Jovovich, Moira Kelly, Kevin Kline, Diane Lane, Penelope Ann Miller, Marisa Tomei, James Woods,

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DVD Review

Adapted from My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin and Chaplin: His Life and Art by David Robinson, Chaplin (1992) was a prestigious, big budget biopic about the life of legendary English comedian Charles Chaplin. While the film was criticized for taking liberties with some aspects of the man’s life, Robert Downey Jr., who portrayed Chaplin in the film, received almost unanimous acclaim for his inspired take on this icon of cinema. Has it really been 15 years since it was released? Enough time has passed to reassess Richard Attenborough’s film and see how well it has aged since then.

The film begins in 1894 when Chaplin was a child and watches his mother (Chaplin) bomb on stage only to go on in her place and win over the hostile audience with his singing. His family is dirty poor and faces hardships like something out of a Charles Dickens story. With the help of his older brother, Chaplin gets a chance to perform on Vaudeville where he hones his comedic chops, and in particular, his knack for physical comedy.

Chaplin travels to the United States and discovers (and becomes fascinated) by the cinema. As luck would have it, he ends up getting a job appearing in films directed by Mack Sennett (Aykroyd) and learns how films are made. Chaplin works his way up until he directs and stars in his own motion pictures, starting his own movie studio. In addition to chronicling Chaplin’s rise in show business, the film also takes a look at several of his personal relationships with various women in his life: teenage actress Mildred Harris (Jovovich) and actress Paulette Levy (Lane), who is more Chaplin’s intellectual equal.

There are awkward jumps in time as in one scene, Chaplin angers a dancer (Kelly) backstage, and in the next one they are on a fancy date in which he proposes marriage to her. Attenborough tries to cover this with a framing device that has an old Chaplin dictating his autobiography to a writer (Hopkins) who complains that he is omitting the more painful aspects of his life. Attenborough faithfully recreates some of the most memorable bits in Chaplin’s films and Robert Downey Jr. uncannily inhabits this role. Not only does he do a credible English accent, but he does a great job replicating many of Chaplin’s signature moves. This earned Downey numerous critical raves and it’s just a shame that the rest of the film wasn’t up to his level.

Attenborough takes a page out of Oliver Stone’s book and populates Chaplin with an all-star cast that not only enhances the film’s drawing power but also helps the audience keep track of who everyone is. It’s not that Chaplin is a bad film it’s just not a terribly engaging or extraordinary one. For such an intriguing person who led such a fascinating life, the film feels rather flat and uninspired. Compare it to a film like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994), which is vibrant and has real affection for its subject matter, conveying it to the audience passionately. Attenborough’s Chaplin lacks this passion.

Special Features:

“Strolling into the Sunset” features director Richard Attenborough talking about how hard it was to get a biopic about Chaplin made and then casting someone to play the man. He also talks about all the hard work and homework Downey did in order to portray Chaplin. The legendary star’s biographer, one of the film’s producers, and Chaplin’s son also offer their thoughts.

“Chaplin the Hero” takes a look at Chaplin’s global appeal. His genius as a performer on a purely visual level appealed to people of all ages all over the world because they could identify with the simple yet truthful messages in his films.

“The Most Famous Man in the World” examines Chaplin’s rise to fame, from his early days in Vaudeville to film. Once he started making films, Chaplin’s fame grew even more and at a dramatic rate.

“All at Sea: Chaplin Home Movie” features an excerpt from an amateur film shot by young journalist Alistair Cooke while on vacation with Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in the summer of 1933. Chaplin looks relaxed and happy as he goofs around for the camera.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 74%

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