CHAPLIN is the cinematic equivalent of a whistle-stop tour of Europe--the kind that takes you to ten cities in five days at such speed that everything melts into a vaguely entertaining blur. Richard Attenborough's film traces the entire arc of Chaplin's life, including his impoverished
childhood in London, his early days as a vaudeville entertainer, his unparalleled success as a star and director of silent films, his enforced exile in Switzerland as a result of his alleged Communist sympathies, and his final, triumphant return to Hollywood in 1972 to accept a special Oscar for
his life's work.
That's not to mention the series of young women who punctuated Chaplin's life and who seem to pop up every few minutes throughout the film--the "if this is 1936, that must be Paulette Goddard" school of biography. Attenborough and his writers fail to impose sufficient dramatic structure on this overabundance of material, and never get to grips with what it was that fueled Chaplin's genius.
Nonetheless, some sections come vividly to life, largely thanks to engaging performances. Robert Downey Jr., does an impressive job as the title character, perfectly recreating Chaplin's range of English accents (he went from Cockney to genteel as he got more famous) and mimicking, with
astonishing precision, the gait and gestures of the Little Tramp. Downey is ably backed up by a glittering supporting cast, particularly Dan Aykroyd as Keystone Kops mogul Mack Sennett, Kevin Kline as silent screen legend Douglas Fairbanks, and Geraldine Chaplin (the great man's real-life daughter) as Chaplin's mother. leave a comment