Posts Tagged ‘Robert Downey Jr.


Why I’m Excited About The Judge Even If It Ends Up Being a Mediocre Movie

The-Judge-2014-Movie-Poster-WallpaperSlate staff writer Aisha Harris has written a very perceptive article about Denzel Washington’s career trajectory, which for the last few years, has mostly consisted of bad action flicks. His latest is The Equalizer; not only did Entertainment Weekly give it a “D” grade in its review, but it was the number-one movie at the box office this weekend. In her Slate article, Harris wonders where is the Denzel of Malcolm X, Glory, Training Day, and Flight, all for which he either won or was nominated for an Oscar.

Lately, I’ve been asking the same sorts of questions about one of my favorite actors, Robert Downey Jr. His latest film, The Judge, opens next month. In it, Downey plays a variation of his real-life, Tony Stark persona: cocky but through circumstances, gets knocked down a few notches and needs to build himself up again. In The Judge, Downey might be playing another version of Tony Stark yet again, but at least he’s not actually playing Iron Man this time. Granted, he does a wonderful job as Iron Man, breaking the mold of how a superhero should be and who should play him. That role and Sherlock Holmes has led him to a surprising career resurgence, culminating in being named the world’s highest-paying actor. Who could have guessed 10 or 15 years ago that was what his future would be? Who could have guessed that, even when he was at his critical career peak in the 80s and 90s (think Less Than Zero and Chaplin)? Although the early buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival about The Judge is less than great, the film will hopefully resurrect a Downey that isn’t afraid to try different roles. After all, coloring outside the lines is what he does best.

Here’s a recent profile about Robert Downey Jr. in the October 2014 issue of Vanity Fair.


Make ‘Em Smile

Robert Downey, Jr. as Chaplin

Directed by Lord Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) and featuring an all-star cast, Chaplin (1992), a good if unremarkable film, is worth a look because of Robert Downey Jr.’s Oscar-nominated (and BAFTA-winning) lead performance. His Charlie Chaplin’s physicality, mannerisms, and voice are dead-on, both in and out of the Little Tramp character. In the Chaplin DVD’s special features, Richard Schickel, Time film critic, says that Downey’s performance has a “wistfulness” and “stunned” quality as he encounters people, places, and things (such as film) for the first time. I would go a step further and add that his performance is imbued with a childlike quality, which allows the character to be open and to endlessly create. Schickel also says that Downey’s performance is the film’s “saving grace.”

The idea of performance and the real human being underneath constantly informs Chaplin. The film opens with Downey as Chaplin removing his iconic Little Tramp makeup, as the black-and-white film stock subtly transforms into color, from film to life, from character to person, from artificiality to reality. The film is structured around an older Chaplin’s voiceovers and flashbacks as a (fictional) book editor (Anthony Hopkins) attempts to fill in gaps in the star’s autobiography. Until this editor entered the picture, Chaplin was able to control his own story. Now, he is forced to confront the unpleasant parts of his life, such as his propensity for underage girls and his mixed emotions about family, creativity, America, and fame.

Chaplin’s struggles with his personal demons parallels Downey’s own life at the time of the film’s shooting. Underneath Downey’s undisputed talent and professionalism lay a raging drug addiction, this would temporarily sidetrack his career a few years after Chaplin’s release. Downey has performed Chaplin’s song “Smile” about keeping up appearances through adversity, and the song emerges in the film as Chaplin returns to London for the first time since becoming world-famous. He has literally just learned that his first love, whom he met in London, has died. Now, he must put aside grief, smile, and give the waiting swarm of fans what they want.

How the film is made even showcases aspects of persona, performance, and surface artificiality, including the use of traditional silent-film techniques, such as wipes, irises, dissolves, slow-motion, and fast-motion to move the film along or to comment on the action. As in the silent era, Chaplin also uses long shots to spotlight Chaplin’s/Downey’s performance, especially in instances of slapstick. There are also scenes which explain the creative tricks that silent filmmakers used to get around limited resources, money, and technology. Use of these techniques makes the film into a mix of modern, accurate realism in its content and a self-conscious spectacle which brings attention to the act and artificiality of silent-era filmmaking. “Nothing quite like it, the feeling of film,” the older Chaplin points out to the book editor, emphasizing the Chaplin’s dependence of style as much as substance to tell its story. In the DVD special features, Lord Attenborough says that he regrets the “theatricality” (i.e., the use of silent-film technique and artificiality) in the film and that the film isn’t as “profound” as it might have been. Maybe not, but making silent-film technique a part of the film itself is Chaplin’s other “saving grace,” second only to Robert Downey Jr.


The Unsinkable Downey

robert-downey-jr-photos-034Born in 1965 to an underground film director, Robert Downey, Jr., is only now starting to be known more for his film work and talent than for his past drug addictions and destructive behavior. The star of Iron Man (2008), Tropic Thunder (2008), The Soloist (2009), and the upcoming Sherlock Holmes, Downey is finally having his day. Aside from being nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Chaplin (1992), he also has a solo CD, a short-lived stint on Saturday Night Live in the mid-eighties with Anthony Michael Hall, and a long-lived relationship with Sarah Jessica Parker until 1991. But it’s Downey’s known reckless spontaneity, formerly from drugs and now from a controlled youthful playfulness that forms the foundations of his onscreen (and offscreen) persona.

1. The Pick-Up Artist (1987) – This strange, imperfect little film, directed by James Toback and co-starring Dennis Hopper, Harvey Keitel, and Danny Aiello, showcases Downey as an impulsive Casanova who finally meets his match in Molly Ringwald. Great use of New York City. Downey would go on to star in other Toback films, such as Black and White (1999) and Two Girls and a Guy (1997).

2. The Last Party (1993) – This documentary follows a newly sober Downey, still in his twenties, as he attends the 1992 Republican and Democratic conventions. It also gives an intimate look at his family life: the new wife he met in rehab, along with his father and stepmother. In four short years, Downey would go on an even steeper downward spiral, but for now, he is very aware and articulate about his flaws, fears, and idealism in relation to himself and to the country as a whole, which would soon be electing a new president, who would have quite a roller coaster journey of his own.

3. Only You (1994) – I like this underappreciated little film for the cast (which includes Marisa Tomei), the location (Italy), and the romantically optimistic plot (although unlikely, still hopeful). Downey plays a shoe salesman who falls in love with a teacher (Tomei), who is dead-set on fulfilling her destiny with someone else.

4. Zodiac (2007) – So, the three other films listed here seem to revolve around the themes of hope and optimism. Zodiac seems the odd man out. Upon its release, much was made of the parallels between a once-again sober Downey’s past drug use and his character’s addictions. By the end of the film, his character has to use an oxygen mask due to the toil his body has taken. A chilling reminder of what Downey could have become had he not turned his life around.