Having had an influence on cinema that is impossible to measure, legendary film comedian Charles Chaplin (Robert Downey Jr.) sits down to talk over his remarkable life with biographer George Hayden (Anthony Hopkins). Born into poverty on the streets of London, Chaplin's gift for physical comedy saw him take the world of vaudeville by storm before a tour of America led him to find his calling. Appearing in the movies of Mack Sennett (Dan Aykroyd), it wasn't long before the ambitious young performer becomes a star, creating his soon to be world-famous tramp character, replete with bowler hat and cane. Pushed by Hayden to reveal more about his life than the rose-tinted account he favours, the reserved Chaplin talks about his many loves, his close relationship with his tragic mother and the persecution he suffered during the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
Dismissed on its release by many critics as a typically fluffy paean to Chaplin directed by cinema's number one luvvie, this sumptuous biopic may have a touch too much gloss, but it's anything but bland. Downey Jr. gives what is possibly his greatest performance to date, effortlessly segueing between the various stages of Chaplin's life with charm, wit and pathos, whether he's playing him as an enthusiastic young upstart or an embittered recluse.
Vivid turns from the supporting cast, including Aykroyd as a endearingly volatile Sennett and Kevin Kline as a swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks, do a great job of transporting audiences back to the golden age of Hollywood and Chaplin's own daughter Geraldine is particularly memorable playing her troubled grandmother, Hannah. While it may not dig too deeply into the various controversies surrounding his life, Richard Attenborough's film is not whitewash and delivers an affectionate yet complex look at the life of Hollywood's first true legend.