"The Life and Death of Peter Sellers," directed by Stephen Hopkins, looks at the remarkable life of the actor who triumphed in such films as "Dr. Strangelove" and "Being There." The film covers Seller's early days in British radio, his troubled personal life, his marriages, his relationship with his parents, his box office successes, his craftsmanship as a performer, and his relationship with director Blake Edwards. "Life and Death" opens up with a colorfully anarchic animated sequence (done to a swingin' Tom Jones song) and never loses its energy.
It takes a brilliant chameleon to play a brilliant chameleon, and Geoffrey Rush is amazing in the title role. He creates a remarkable portrait as he not only portrays Sellers at different stages of his life, but also recreates some of Sellers' most famous screen roles. Rush is ably supported by a stellar cast that includes Charlize Theron and Emily Watson. In one of the film's most striking motifs, Rush temporarily takes over some of his costars' roles and seemingly plays Sellers playing various individuals in his life; this motif is itself a clever, and eerily effective, homage to Sellers' own ability to play multiple roles in a single film.
The film mixes together some of the standard biopic elements with some really surreal elements and sequences. Overall it's a highly effective blend. Sellers ultimately is portrayed as a volatile creative force, capable of destructive rages as well as of great charm, playfulness, and generosity. His story is superbly complemented by a great soundtrack of evocative songs. Visually the film is stunning to look at as it captures different decades that Sellers lived through.
The DVD of the film is loaded with great extras. There are a number of really intriguing deleted scenes, including additional scenes of the versatile Rush taking on even more roles. There are two excellent feature-length audio commentaries. One is by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote the screenplay; the second is by Rush and director Hopkins. The commentaries reveal fascinating details about Sellers' life and career, and about the making of the film. Among the most interesting topics covered in the commentaries is the scrapped alternate opening for the film. Ultimately, this film made me want to both revisit the Sellers classics that I have loved for years and check out the Sellers films that I have never seen. "Life and Death" is a powerful, moving, entertaining, and thought-provoking tribute to one of the most amazing screen performers of the 20th century.