Back in 1992, Richard Attenborough directed Chaplin, a biopic of Charlie Chaplin chronicling the auteur's childhood and rise to fame starring Robert Downey Jr. in the titular role.
The film was partly based on Charlie Chaplin's autobiography but we get the feeling that Attenborough probably thought Mr Chaplin was being tight-lipped about parts of his life in it hence why the movie's framing device is Anthony Hopkins' fictional biographer interviewing an older Chaplin further. Very early on, it becomes apparent that, despite him not being British, Robert Downey Jr. was the ideal choice to portray the comedian. The actor being not only physically close to how Chaplin looked but delivering a layered, convincing performance throughout. Attenborough appears to make a conscious decision to not recreate Chaplin's films instead focusing on the man himself and showing clips from the actual classics right at the end.
The film gives us a lot of information on who Chaplin was but it doesn't seem to want to go too much into why he did certain things, perhaps because no-one really knew. Not remaking the artist's masterpieces may have been a wise move but exploring why he chose comedy as a main path and how he built his particular style would have probably been much more interesting than his multiple relationships with women, some of them questionable due to their young age. The film shows the facts in terms of Chaplin's personal life pretty well but paints his career in very broad strokes, which is disappointing since it's easily the most fascinating aspect of his life. A lot of his journey from poor London kid to wealthy celebrity filmmaker is skipped over including acting alongside Stanley Laurel and playing various other characters, not just The Tramp, which is a shame.
The cast also includes Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, Penelope Ann Miller and Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks. The latter's friendship with Chaplin may have been significant but that doesn't really come across through the film which could have instead focused on one of the many other unexplored features of Chaplin's life. Attenborough directs the film with class and style but doesn't convincingly show why his subject's films were funny, something this reviewer feels is a bit of a fatal flaw. We're meant to assume he was hilarious but what we're shown comes off as ropey or cute, at best, when, in fact, Charlie Chaplin's films were much smarter and funnier than this film suggests. Admittedly, it does attempt to showcase the man's many slapstick talents and his controversial (at the time) attempts to tackle serious subject matter. It just never makes a solid case for why he was as popular as he was and still is.
All in all, if you know very little about Charlie Chaplin's life then it's probably a good idea to check out this biopic, if only for Downey Jr.'s solid performance but I would suggest going through the man's early work and masterpieces first and foremost as Chaplin won't exactly sell you the iconic auteur for the comic genius he truly was.
Informative yet incomplete.