Jul 19, 2010

Chaplin - even legends have wild sides

 Chaplin (1992)

Directed by Richard Attenborough. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Paul Rhys, Moira Kelly, Dan Ankroyd, Anthony Hopkins, Geraldine Chaplin.

Long story short: It's the from-rags-to-riches story of Charlie Chaplin - how he grew up in the muddy streets of London, moved to America in a chase of a dream, created the most recognisable character in the history of cinema, became a legend, and how, after all this, he found love and peace and his very own happily-ever-after. 

Every one has a wild side. Even a legend. Especially a legend, I say.

I first watched this film earlier this year, because of a certain Robert, whose last name begins with Downey and ends with Jr. - and recently I've become a bit obsessed about everything that has to do with Charlie Chaplin. I can only thank RDJ! For he's a jolly good fellow.

On the first watch I knew hardly anything about Chaplin, but I enjoyed the film a lot, anyway. Now that I've read his autobiography (finished it earlier today) and seen some of his movies, I obviously enjoyed it even more. It's a great film, and hasn't got the attention it deserves.

Let's first get over the obvious. RDJ got his first Oscar nomination for playing Charlie Chaplin from his twenties till his eighties (the second one he got from Tropic Thunder in 2009, for a slightly, er, different role, but a brilliant one all the same). Frankly, I think it's his best performance to date, and I wouldn't be surprised if it remained his greatest for good. He's simply amazing. The role is challenging as hell! Not only does he have to play Charles Chaplin, but also the Tramp - and what do you know, he nails them both. Him not winning the Oscar is a tragedy. But oh well, he lost it for Al Pacino, so things could be worse. Still, I'm a bit bitter.

RDJ has always rocked the accents, and again my (sadly uneducated) ear doesn't have complaints about his Cockney way of speech. (I've linked this clip before and I'll link it again. Sorry, but it's brilliant.) Also, I think RDJ has that certain kind of mischievious, jaunty and charming presence, which fits very well to the mental image I've had about Chaplin. His Tramp imitation is also fantastic. I though it was good before, but after seeing the original version in action I was now able to spot the same mannerisms and gestures in RDJ's interpretation, and damn, he's more than good. Here's a clip about the creation of the Tramp. Watch and marvel.

The rest of Chaplin's broad cast is excellent, too. I especially like Paul Rhys, who plays Charlie's brother Sydney, and the women playing his various wifes and girlfriends, like Moira Kelly, who (a bit confusingly, but quite poetically) plays two different roles and Diane Lane, who I just think is one of the most traditionally beautiful women alive. There's also Milla Jovovich and Marisa Tomei... Anthony Hopkins plays a fictional character, the editor of Chaplin's autobiography.

And this is cool: Charlie Chaplin's real life daughter Geraldine Chaplin plays Charlie's mother - her own grandmother, that is.

I'm not usually very big on biographies - The Aviator, Walk the Line, Ed Wood... nah. Schindler's List is excellent, but you can't really call it a joy to watch. Chaplin IS a joy to watch. (Perhaps because it's about a man who is a joy to watch, played by a man who is also a joy to watch.) It's interesting and also funny, touching and very charming. Some scenes are very, almost surprisingly, slapstick-y, which fits in the mood of the film perfectly. It's not a perfect film, and somehow it feels like it didn't use all of its potential, but I liked it a lot, anyway.

One of my favourite scenes is the opening - the black and white images of Chaplin taking off his costume and make up. The look in RDJ's eyes tell's it all. There's a really strong feel of a depressed clown in the scene. It's just great. In the end there were some goosebumps and a few tears. The whole Honorary Oscar thing is just sincerely moving and it feels like one of those larger-than-life moments. And I love how there's some original footage in the film, too - clips from Chaplin's movies and from the Oscars, for example.

The make up team has done wonderful job in the film. Remember, it's the same 25-year-old Robert Downey Jr. playing both the 20-year-old and the 80-year-old Charlie Chaplin. And yeah, I'm buying it! sure, the oldest Chaplin looks a bit waxy at times, but it doesn't bother anyone. And of course, RDJ's amazing acting talents combined to that awesome make up equals a pretty convincing man of various ages.

Chaplin is a great film. It's about a great man, who I've seriously learned to admire during the past few weeks. He just rocks and I'd totally marry him if I could. Or at least I'd scream my lungs out at him and kiss the earth beneath his feet. Or something. Also, I want RDJ to drop the action block busters for a moment and do another epic drama. Please.

Here's the trailer of Chaplin. ("What do we do, Charlie?" "Smile.") It's seriously a very good film and I recommend it very warmly.

"If you want to understand me, watch my movies."

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