For years, Robert Downey, Jr. has taken impossible roles and made them sing. In Sir Richard Attenborough's Chaplin, he gives a vivid portrait of film legend Charlie Chaplin.
Robert Downey, Jr.'s two Oscar nominations make an amusing pair of bookended actors. Most recently was 2008, when he was nominated for Tropic Thunder, delivering a wicked parody of the pomposity of actors with his so-method-he-went-blackface Kirk Lazarus, and then there was 1992, where he was eerily on-point as one of the true legends of film, Charlie Chaplin.
Perhaps he had to go Lazarus in order to get to the root of Chaplin;
but really, Downey's wildman antics (his publicized drug difficulties
took up the rest of the 90s) and general
sadness-underneath-the-geniality lends a gravitas to the actor, who was
in his late twenties when he played the role. Attenborough's film,
based on Chaplin's autobiography and David Robinson's book Chaplin: His Life and Art
is wildly ambitious (the original cut was nearly four hours long)—an
epic ride through Chaplin's life—and Downey is up for the many
transformations. He's mesmerizing, whether portraying Chaplin as a
young man in vaudeville, figuring out his sad clown persona, or even up
to Chaplin's elderly years, where he's in exile in Switzerland. And the
stuff in between Chaplin's origin and his death? Well, it's the very
roots of the film industry, featuring a host of actors from Moira Kelly to an impressive Kevin Kline, and the results are fascinating.
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