As I return to DK Canada’s The Movie Book, the next film they highlight is the Chaplin classic, City Lights. That is a title I’d previously reviewed, and so I dove write into What Else to Watch, as I had already reviewed his key movies, and the first one on the list I hadn’t previously covered was Attenborough’s bio-pic Chaplin, starring Robert Downey Jr in the titular role.
The film is told through a series of flashbacks as Chaplin and his editor George Hayden (Anthony Hopkins) are going through his autobiography and clarifying details. From there we are guided through his life, from his start in England to his travels to the States, where he first earned the love of the American people before he faced their scorn, and ultimately their welcome of his return.
His love life is littered with wreckage, affairs with young women who he then marries, or at least befriended – Edna Purviance (Penelope Ann Miller), Mildred Harris (Milla Jovovich), Lita Grey (Deborah Moore), Paulette Goddard (Diane Lane) and Oona O’Neill (Moira Kelly).
We see his film career, the creativity he brought to the screen, and the struggle to put it there, and, the response of the audiences of the world.
It’s an involving tale, and Downey is fantastic in the role, channelling the genius that was Chaplin, which earned him a nomination for Best Actor.
Attenborough, who has an affectation for wipes in this film, stuffs the movie with a multitude of stars that includes Marisa Tomei, Dan Akroyd, Kevin Dunn, David Duchovny, and Kevin Kline – perfectly cast as Douglas Fairbanks.
Beautifully shot, and featuring a score by John Barry, Chaplin completely engaged me, and brought film’s bygone eras to life wonderfully. It was all just bout perfect, except for these wipe scene transitions. They were happening so often that it often jarred me from the film.
For all that, the story and the performances kept me involved and watching Downey embody Chaplin is something to behold.
There were things about Chaplin I never knew that I learned in this film. I knew he had been married multiple times, and that there was a thing for younger women. I did not know about his clashes with Hoover (Dunn) and the reception of The Great Dictator when it first came out.
Especially when one considers how classic and important The Great Dictator is considered now. To see how Chaplin was gone after by those in power, leading to his exile from America… stunning.
It’s amazing when you consider what films have endured, and how they were perceived at the time. In the end, this one was short of a masterpiece, but stunning, and falls easily into my “I would recommend this” pile. But don’t take my word for it, go grab a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book and find something amazing to watch tonight!