For years, Robert Downey Jr. has been poison. Maybe not complete box office failure poison, but he was a name people immediately associated with drugs, career suicide and uncontrollable. Oh, how a couple of years of sobriety and a super hero can make a difference. Downey is at an all-time career high, and it isn’t too surprising that Chaplin, for which he earned an Oscar nomination fifteen long years ago, is being re-released in a – you guessed it – 15th Anniversary Edition.
I had never seen Chaplin before, nor did I know much about the famed actor other than the few short films I’ve seen of his. The movie, directed by Richard Attenborough, is pretty good, but Downey is tremendous as the British, silent-film innovator. Much of the time he is unrecognizable, and not just physically. He transforms himself into Chaplin, capturing his moves, his mannerisms, accents and behaviors with amazing sincerity. Given that this is Downey’s one and only Oscar nomination, one has to wonder what he would have done over the last fifteen years had he not been flying a kite the entire time.
Beyond his performance, Chaplin is dotted with a dizzying array of supporting actors, including Anthony Hopkins, Diane Lane, Dan Akroyd, Milla Jovovich, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Anne Miller and Kevin Kline. All turn in fine performances, but none stand out in any way or form.
The movie itself is pretty good, chronicling Charlie Chaplin’s life from childhood through his honorary Oscar acceptance in 1972. Attenborough keeps things rather biographical and subtle, avoiding dramatized moments where possible. Unfortunately, this approach leads to an understated feel and a lack of power; while good, the movie rarely captivates. It also doesn’t help that the makeup used on Downey when he’s portraying Chaplin in his later years looks pretty God-awful.
Chaplin is a worthwhile film, though not tremendous by any means. Downey, however, delivers the finest performance of his career.