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With: Robert Downey Jr., 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 Maria Moore, Diane Lane, Nancy Travis, James Woods, David Duchovny
Written by: Diana Hawkins, William Boyd, Bryan Forbes, William Goldman, based on books by David Robinson, Charles Chaplin
Directed by: Richard Attenborough
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for nudity and language
Running Time: 144
Date: 12/18/1992

Chaplin (1992)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Resurrecting the Tramp

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

On a certain level, Richard Attenborough's Chaplin isn't a very good film. Chaplin's life is so long and complex and with so many facets that hardly any movie could really do it justice (certainly not one that runs only 144 minutes). Plus, Attenborough was probably not the man for the job; he had won an Oscar for making Gandhi, but he's a journeyman director without even the tiniest sliver of the artistry made Chaplin great. (Imagine what Wes Anderson, the Coen brothers, Pedro Almodovar, or Spike Jonze could have done.) And seen today, Chaplin wallows in all the biopic clich├ęs that have become so numerous and annoying.

Nevertheless, the movie was clearly made with a lot of love, and it has one deciding factor that sells it: Robert Downey Jr. At the time, I didn't think much of Downey. He struck me as arrogant, and good only for playing obnoxious supporting roles in movies like Weird Science and Back to School. But I quickly changed my mind after seeing this performance, and to such a degree that I now believe he's one of the half-dozen greatest actors alive today (perhaps in a league with Chaplin himself). Like any great biopic performance, Downey not only imitates Chaplin, but also captures his essence, and the complex joy and sadness that must have come from being the most famous man in the world. He makes you laugh with his effortless slapstick and makes you cry with his heartbreak.

The film skims over Chaplin's life at a great rate, but little moments spring to life: Mildred Harris (Milla Jovovich) seducing Chapin, conversations with Douglas Fairbanks (Kevin Kline), Diane Lane's warm portrait of Paulette Goddard, Chaplin's greatest leading lady (and onetime wife) and Geraldine Chaplin playing her own grandmother. Many have complained about the wraparound sequences, with Anthony Hopkins as a book editor, badgering the aged Charlie with questions (not to mention that the age makeup never quite works over Downey's full lips), but they never bothered me. The screenplay was based on David Robinson's essential biography, as well as Chaplin's own autobiography, so in a way, it's Chaplin's final official screen credit. Paul Rhys plays Charlie's brother Sydney, and two years earlier he had played Vincent Van Gogh's brother Theo (in Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo).

In 2008, Lionsgate re-released Chaplin for its 15th anniversary, and probably to cash in on current Downey fever (with his justly celebrated parts in this year's Iron Man and Tropic Thunder). The disc comes with lots of new featurettes filled with talking heads (Attenborough, Robinson, etc.). Best of all, we get some rare home movie footage of Chaplin on his yacht. There's also a theatrical trailer, and optional subtitles. For some reason, the running time on the box (as on other boxes) is incorrectly listed at 135 minutes, but the movie actually runs 144 minutes.

In 2011, a Blu-Ray release followed. It comes with the same extras, though none of them have been remastered in HD. Plus, oddly, when I played the disc, the bonus features all played in a little window in the upper left-hand corner of my screen. Additionally, the erroneous running time on the box still has not been corrected. However, the movie itself looks good.

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