Life and Death of Peter Sellers [2004]

Geoffrey Rush is in bravura form in his shape-shifting performance as one of the cinema's great chameleons: Peter Sellers. This higgledy-piggledy biopic races across the high and low points of Sellers's adult life, pretty much sticking to the standard explanation (endorsed by Sellers himself) that his genius for mimickry and impersonation was the result of lacking a personality of his own. Sellers's monstrous treatment of wives and colleagues is balanced by his childlike enthusiasms, all nicely captured by Rush. As for the re-creations of Sellers routines from The Goon Show or Dr. Strangelove, Rush gives it a game and sometimes inspired go. Other characters are as incidental as they seem to have been to Sellers himself, with Miriam Margolyes (as Peter's grasping, goading mother) and Emily Watson (patient first wife) especially good. Charlize Theron is Britt Ekland, with little more to do than adopt a Swedish accent. The events chosen to illustrate Sellers's neuroses seem random--from a drawn-out infatuation with Sophia Loren to his feud with Blake Edwards--and the film piles up until Sellers's heart finally gives out. This middling life story could have made, and deserves, a great documentary. --Robert Horton

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