After watching, and thoroughly enjoying, The Kid, I felt it was an appropriate time to watch Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin. This biographical film displays the life of Charlie Chaplin from his difficult childhood, his rise to success to his personal struggles with his work and his women. The film has a rather clichéd format as we join an elderly Charlie Chaplin, looking back over his life and highlighting the crucial moments that shaped his career and his character. The film boasts a star studded cast, including the remarkable Robert Downey Jr. as the intriguing comic around whom so much inspiration and controversy festered.
There is no denying that the film is enjoyable. The minutes, all 143 of them, pass by swiftly. There is a consistent pace that holds your attention and draws you into the slightly sombre and rather mysterious life of Charlie Chaplin. At times the script felt a little weak; leading to stilted delivery and performance. There are certain events that occurred within Chaplin’s life that are being almost forced upon you as a member of the audience. His conflicts with the powerful J. Edgar Hoover, his disgust of Nazism and his addiction to cinema and his work are all emphasised quite clumsily. Although such things were poignant within the life and career of Chaplin, the film seems a little too desperate to emphasise these events which, ironically, limits our insight into Chaplin’s mind and persona.
Anthony Hopkins’ character is there to drive the narrative and to contribute absolutely nothing else. This prolific actor’s talents are suffocated in such an empty part and it is his useless role that makes us feel distant from the world of Chaplin that he keeps interrupting. Hopkins himself is not to blame for this; it is the structure of the script and story that stops Richard Attenborough’s efforts from reaching the heights it should. One of the big queries that arose from Chaplin, for me, was whether or not the film does Charlie Chaplin justice. It is a thoroughly entertaining film but there is no sense of conviction and controversy; two factors that made Chaplin such a master of cinema. As the film ended, I felt a little deflated; no closer to understanding Charlie Chaplin as a man, a film maker or an entertainer.
Chaplin is desperate to tell the story of Charlie Chaplin. The man (whose many marriages, political beliefs and personal demons plagued his career, influenced the films he made and eventually led to his exile from the United States of America) is lost beneath the messy layers of this biographical movie. Attenborough has succeeded in making a perfectly fine piece of cinema but there is no risk, no bravery and no depth; all the crucial elements of Charlie Chaplin’s own cinematic works. Chaplin is sat on the fence. It needed to make up its mind to either tell the historical story of Charlie Chaplin, sticking to facts and events, or it needed to dive deep into the darker elements of Chaplin and his persona. Trying to do both, Chaplin, barely scratches the surface of a story that is filled with such potential and precious insight.
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