Sunday, January 25, 2009

Remembering Chaplin

One of the things I love about Netflix (besides the fact that the dvds come right to my mailbox) is the chance to see films I haven't seen in years, or never seen. I wrote last week about "Fear Strikes Back," which I had recently seen for the first time. This weekend, I revisited an "oldie" I saw over ten years ago: Chaplin starring Robert Downey, Jr.

Released in 1992, this was Downey's breakout role. He'd done other films previously, but this was his first "big" role - and he won the Oscar for best actor for his performance. Looking at it now - 17 years later - it's amazing to see the magnitude of his talent. It would be easy to lament his wasted years - the years he spent drunk, drugged, and in rehab - and wonder where he'd be now had he not had this "hiatus." I choose instead to celebrate his performance in this film biography.

Downey portrays Chaplin from his early vaudeville years until his death. He perfectly captures the pathos, the unfortunate circumstances of his life, his fabulous ability with slapstick, his fatal attraction to underage women. Every role in the film seems perfectly cast - from Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks to Dan Ackroyd as Mack Sennett to Moira Kelly as Oona O'Neill Chaplin. The most inspired bit of casting was Geraldine Chaplin - Chaplin's daughter - playing her own grandmother, Chaplin's mentally unstable mother.

Chaplin's journey was amazing. I have a vague memory of him receiving an honorary Oscar in 1972 - his first visit back to the US since he was exiled in 1952. He received a 5 minute standing ovation - the longest in Academy history.

As for Downey, his journey has been equally amazing and epic. 2008 was the year he truly made his comeback - with bravura appearances in "Tropic Thunder" (for which he's been nominated for Best Supporting Actor) and "Iron Man." His next big role is Sherlock Holmes - I'm really looking forward to that!

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