Richard Attenborough had already proven he was masterful at bringing the life of a famous person to screen ten years before Chaplin was released, with the highly praised and awarded Gandhi. Though this film was more critically lauded than Chaplin, it is obvious that Attenborough is masterful at the sprawling biopic.
Chaplin obviously tells the story of one of the UK's most famous entertainers (Who ironically spent a great deal of his life in the US). From his humble beginnings in the poverty of Victorian London to his rise to become the most famous man on the planet at the time, to his fall from grace at the hands of America's communist paranoia, right up until his final years where he accepts a lifetime achievement award from The Academy. Today, he is known by his still-hilarious silent films and his comedy character The Little Tramp, but like many great comedians, he was a complex and sad man deep down.
The film spans almost all of the man's 88-year life, and the viewer really gets a feeling of a large space of time passing without ever becoming tired of the film (which is around two hours and twenty minutes long). This is partly because the events, locations and activities of Chaplin were many and pretty varied. Most of his life story is told as he relates his story to his biographer (Sir Anthony Hopkins). He engages in a great many relationships with different women, particularly younger ones. His career is also long and varied, starting out as a comic at the Hackney Empire, branching out into a silent film star, moving into "talkies", writing the musical Modern Times and co-forming United Artists Pictures.
The acting in the film is strong throughout, as you would expect from a stellar cast that includes Sir Anthony Hopkins, John Thaw, Dan Ackroyd, Kevin Kline, James Woods, Marisa Tomei, and Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie's daughter, playing her grandmother. But the most impressive has to be Robert Downey Jr., playing the lead role. If you have any doubts as to whether an American could play one of Britain's most famous sons, then this film will lay it to rest once and for all. He masters both the cockney accent from Chaplin's earlier years, and the more refined speech pattern he adopted once he had settled in America. But more than this he successfully conveys his driven attitude to his work (his comedy mannerisms are imitated extremely well), his frustration at changing times and his sadness at losing what he loved. Even as he is unrecognisable in prosthetics when playing Chaplin as an old man, he manages to ooze emotion and realism.
The production values for this film were highly praised, and this is obvious once you have seen it. The locations are expansive, authentic and beautiful. One memorable moment has Charlie and his brother attempting to conceal him from the police as they make their escape and is played in the style of his famous silent comedy films.
Chaplin is a fantastic biopic of one of the true greats of the entertainment world. If you have a love for cinema, comedy or any form of antertainment then this film will prove to be a fascinating insight into the world of this very interesting and flawed human being.