Thursday, 19 May 2011

Best Actor 1992: Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin

Robert Downey Jr. received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Charles Chaplin in Chaplin.

Chaplin is another by the books biography, effective enough as a whole, but a great film seems possible from the subject matter.

The element that does not seem possible to be greater though is Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role. The biggest challenge to Downey's entire performance as Chaplin is possibly his imitations of Chaplin's film moments as well as his vaudevillian acts. Downey is quite effective in doing both of these. He is firstly a intensely believable as a vaudevillian, and certainly has the spot on timing and ability. In his later portrayal of Chaplin's film sequences he is again completely believable, and accurate to the manner of the real Chaplin. Downey is particularly good in this aspect of Chaplin, because he never really makes it seem that he being overly technically, nor does it feel like an imitation of Chaplin. It instead feels like the actual manner of Chaplin. His recreations capture everything in Chaplin from his certain onscreen energy, his comedic timing, and even his passion in his speech as The Great Dictator. What's so remarkable is how effortless he is in the role. He simply is Chaplin, to the point that nothing is lost or odd when real footage of Chaplin is used in the film. Downey's never just an imitation, he's always an embodiment.

I will say that really that is more than enough of an achievement in a way and it should never bee overlooked. The fact that he manages to be such an iconic cinematic performer is rather astonishing in itself. The rest of  his performance is less notable but should not be hand waved at any point. Downey's portrayal of Chaplin as a man, is not an extremely complicated one, but it is an appropriate one. Chaplin does not really undergo any major changes throughout the film, and always stands as an entertainer, and as a man who believes in his message as well. The one major vice the film presents is his involvement women. The film shows his various relationships, but at the same time does not delve overly deep in many of them implying most of them are purely for physical satisfaction, which Downey certainly presents in a realistic fashion, showing that with every relationship Chaplin is always more concerned with himself than other, without overplaying it, suggesting it just as the nature of Chaplin. Other than his relationship Chaplin is portrayed as basically a nice enough man, and Downey gives the part the proper charm. His most major transformation as Chaplin though is that of his aging, as well as just his adjustment into his wealthier position. Downey actually handles both of these aspects quite well, and his development of his accent from working class in the beginning to wealthy end is extremely well handled by Downey and just another part of the man he gets completely right.

His other transformation is his aging which certainly has a lot to do with his makeup which becomes quite heavy near the end of the film. Downey though does not let it do all of the work for him though, and believably wears the make up, and shows his aging in more subtle aging in his voice and physical movements. It has to be said that any aspect that is depicted in regards to the man Downey depicts so effectively and effortlessly. The only thing that holds Downey back is the script. Now to be sure Downey realizes every facet that is there best he can from his more lustful desires to his more noble passions. We are granted a bit of ego, yet Downey works this into his charm to almost override in a way, but in a way that makes sense for Chaplin. Downey in many ways surpasses the role that is of a rather standard, though bad, biopic on the performer and filmmaker. We occasionally scratch below the surface but not enough. Downey always seeks to do so in any margin he has. Of course one should never forget just how impressive it is that he gets away with his replications of Chaplin to begin with. What the film has here is the one man who should play Chaplin, even if the film is not the one film to define the man. Downey is so good in the role that I would hope he is able to reprise it one day in a film at the same level as his performance.


dshultz said...

? :(

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely. The script doesnt really give him much to do. Looking forward to your Eastwood review :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is probably going to be the last year (as in bottom not end, hopefully) in your ranking. I think even Pacino may win with such low grades they've all got.

Anonymous said...

I meant Downey Jr. not Pacino, sorry.

Anonymous said...

I hope at least Eastwood wins.