Film Review & Trailer: Life

LifefilmposterFrances Winston found this film to be patchily-paced, but it does give some insight into the man who was James Dean 

Directed by: Anton Corbijn – Starring: Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton

It takes a brave actor to tackle an iconic figure such as James Dean. The movie legend, who died in a car crash at the age of just 27, is still idolised by millions, and his image adorns numerous posters and merchandise worldwide, despite the fact that he made a mere three movies. Probably best known prior to this for playing Harry Osborn in super hero blockbuster, The Amazing Spider Man 2, Dane DeHaan is here chosen to tackle the role of the eternal teenager, in this story of his friendship with Life magazine photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson).

I say friendship, but this is more of an anti-friendship. When Stock meets Dean, he immediately senses that he has something special. Realising that this could be his passport to a career breakthrough, he tries to persuade the moody and sullen Dean to do a photoshoot for him. However, despite his agenda, with both men alone and somewhat lost in New York, they find a certain begrudging respect and solace in each other’s company, and the eventual results of their shoot have become some of the best known and most iconic images of Dean, including the famous one of him walking through a rainy New York, while smoking a cigarette.

Pattinson plays Stock as rather monotone. This may be an artistic choice, or it may just be his style right now, but it suits the character, who sees life through his lens rather than actually living it. DeHaan tries not to do an imitation of Dean, however, at times he does verge on parody, but overall he acquits himself well. To be fair, I think any actor would have found it impossible not to slip into a bit of pastiche in this role, and it is clear that he makes a conscious effort to make the part his own.

Some of the best scenes in the movie are when the two of them are just reacting to each other – both strangely similar and yet very different. Dean was to die just seven months after the eventual photo essay (which they travelled to his hometown to do) appeared in Life, so it is impossible to say whether or not the men would have maintained a relationship, and you obviously know this isn’t going to have a happy ending. However, because this focuses on a pivotal moment in Dean’s career, when he was on the verge of stardom prior to the release of East of Eden, it is a fascinating snapshot (no pun intended) of a moment in time that is not usually explored in Dean biographies. Most poignant perhaps is when Stock shows Dean the images, and what we are treated to are the real photos of Dean himself, still unknown, and unaware of the stardom that was to come.

This is a nice slice of Americana, but frustrating at times (particularly Ben Kingsley’s annoying and OTT Jack Warner). Overall though, it is an interesting, if patchily-paced watch, that gives further insight into a man who remains an enigma after all these decades.

In Cinemas September 25th

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