Chaplin Review
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To most casual moviegoers, the silent film era is little more than a long-forgotten time in the movie industry’s past—a time long before CGI. While most movie lovers have probably heard of a number of silent film stars (stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford), though, I think it’s safe to say that none of those stars are quite as iconic—or as widely recognizable—as Charlie Chaplin.

Based on Chaplin’s autobiography—as well as the biography by David Robinson—the Oscar-nominated biopic Chaplin offers a look at the life, the loves, and the career of the celebrated star behind the beloved Tramp.

Born to unstable London stage performer Hannah Chaplin (played by Chaplin’s daughter, Geraldine), Charlie (played as an adult by Robert Downey, Jr.) began performing at a young age, strictly as a means of survival. It wasn’t long, however, before people began to take notice of the young vaudeville performer—and he was forced to leave his home (and his first love) behind to bring his comedy to the States.

Soon after seeing his first movie in Butte, Montana, Charlie was hired by The King of Comedy, director Mack Sennett (Dan Aykroyd). While working with Sennett, Charlie became a star, but even stardom couldn’t protect him from loneliness or heartbreak—or from the suspicion of those around him.

More than fifteen years after its release, director Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin is best remembered for Downey’s outstanding performance. The twenty-something comedian took on the daunting task of mimicking one of the industry’s most iconic stars—and he couldn’t have been better. His portrayal of Chaplin—and his imitation of Chaplin’s mannerisms—is so extraordinary, in fact, that you’ll often wonder whether you’re actually watching archive footage of Chaplin himself.

But Downey does more than just mimic Chapiln; he also gives his character depth and emotion, making him more than just another actor—and more than just a two-dimensional character on a flat movie screen. Though the film skips and skims through Chaplin’s life, Downey’s performance will give you a feel for the character. And by the end of the film, as Downey’s heavily made-up elderly Chaplin returns to Hollywood to accept his honorary Oscar, you might just have to choke back a tear or two.

That’s not to say, though, that Chaplin isn’t an intriguing film outside Downey’s performance. It does have its flaws—mostly due to the fact that Attenborough chose (perhaps too ambitiously) to cover so many aspects of Chaplin’s entire life. At the same time, though, it also offers a fascinating look at the silent film era—and one of its great stars. The talented cast—from Downey to Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks and Aykroyd as Sennett—makes the story (and the era) come to life. So if you’re intrigued by the early days of Hollywood (or if you’re just a fan of great acting), Chaplin is definitely a must-see.

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