Saturday, May 30, 2009


Chaplin; Tragicomedy, UK/ USA/ France/ Italy, 1992; D: Richard Attenborough, S: Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Hopkins, Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys, Moira Kelly, Kevin Kline, Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, Maria Pitillo, Penelope Ann Miller, Mila Jovovich, Diane Lane, James Woods, David Duchovny

The 80-year old Charlie Chaplin tells his life to his biographer George Hayden: he grew up in London and replaced his mother in theater when she suddenly lost her voice. His father died due to alcohol. As a youngster, he became an actor and was quickly hired by director Mack Sennett to star in films in the US. Yet he started a career of his own when he created the character of Tramp. Together with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, he established United Artists. His comedies became classics while he had numerous affairs with women. J. Edgar Hoover accused him of sympathy for Communism and he had to flee to Switzerland in the 50s with his wife Oona O'Neill.

"Chaplin" is a proportionally honest, glimmering, simple and funny biography of one of the most famous comedians of the 20th Century. Director Richard Attenborough manages to queue many episodes from Chaplin's life in an interesting way, yet he doesn't avoid the feeling of incompleteness: the comedian's life was so vast that the story doesn't even begin to cover all his tragedies, motivations and events, but just scratches them superficially. As a consequence, around thirty characters show up in the film and are just forgotten a few minutes latter on: for instance, Dan Aykroyd's performance as Mack Sennett seems more like a cameo than a real supporting character. Numerous celebrities don't have any better treatment, either. Chaplin's childhood was probably the weakest part since it left out simply too many things for comfort, thus lacking some of crucial moments that defined Chaplin. Screenwriter William Goldman wanted to focus the film more on the protagonist's childhood, but was sadly ignored. That's why some critics praised the film, while others have dismissed it, one even describing it as a "stranded whale that doesn't know where to go". Still, as a whole, "Chaplin" is a fine homage, also to the time and feel of the US of the 20s and 30s. As ungrateful as the title role was, Robert Downey Jr. delivered a smashing performance, natural and competent, for which he was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, while he even won a BAFTA.


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