Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Independent Film Guide - C

Chaplin Movie Review

downey william kelly kevin

With Richard Attenborough at the helm, Chaplin promised to be yet another overblown movie biography, and that it certainly is. However, it is largely redeemed by the truth that its gifted cast succeeds in conveying onscreen. The centerpiece of the movie is Robert Downey Jr., who is nothing short of superb in the title role. Moira Kelly also delivers absolutely beguiling performances as Chaplin's first and last loves, Hetty Kelly and Oona O'Neill. There is a lovely early sequence with Downey and Kelly that effectively captures Chaplin's romantic spirit struggling to express itself against the backdrop of a frosty London night. Many of Chaplin's finest moments deal with unfamiliar material like this encounter, and Chaplin's studio days are lovingly re-created with some nice color work that takes on the patina of hand-painted tintypes. Attenborough and screenwriters William Boyd, Bryan Forbes, and William Goldman seem to fight their own film by establishing, but ineffectively reinforcing, a through-line from a not particularly memorable meeting between Chaplin and a young J. Edgar Hoover, to Chaplin's permanent exile from America over 30 years later. Kevin Dunn's portrayal of Hoover, of course, is your standard vindictive voyeur that's been floating around on movie screens since 1972. Moreover, Chaplin's legendary contemporaries like Mabel Normand and Mary Pickford are dismissed as overrated bitches, when they were every bit as wonderful in their own way as Chaplin was. You'd also think, to look at Paul Rhys’ sincere interpretation of Syd Chaplin, that he functioned strictly as his brother's agent. In fact, he was a wonderfully talented comedian in his own right, and his 1925 production of Charley's Aunt is the best and funniest of all the movie versions of the Brandon Thomas classic. Admittedly, you'd expect a movie about Chaplin, based on his autobiography, to focus mainly on the title character. But when you see stars like Kevin Kline in a particularly sensitive turn as Douglas Fairbanks and Dan Aykroyd as Mack Sennett (God, where is his ego, to show his ENTIRE naked stomach in one shot?), and the enchanting Penelope Ann Miller as Edna Purviance and Diane Lane capturing a great deal of Paulette Goddard's vivacity, you can't help thinking that it was THIS crowd that represented Chaplin's world. Why couldn't we have seen more of them, instead of sporadic set pieces illustrating J. Edgar Hoover's detached paranoia? That the filmmakers attempted more than they could fully explore may have been somewhat of an error in judgment, but with all Chaplin's flaws, there is still so much of value in this movie that it is definitely worth careful appraisal on video.

1992 (PG-13) 135m/C GB 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, David Duchovny, Deborah Maria Moore, Bill Paterson, John Standing, Robert Stephens, Peter Crook; D: Richard Attenborough; W: Bryan Forbes, William Boyd, William Goldman; C: Sven Nykvist; M: John Barry. British Academy Awards ‘92: Best Actor (Downey); Nominations: Academy Awards ‘92: Best Actor (Downey), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Original Score. VHS, LV, Letterbox, Closed Caption

Charley's Aunt Movie Review [next] [back] Chan Is Missing Movie Review

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or