LIFE (Canada | Germany | Australia | USA/15A/111mins)
Directed by Anton Corbijn. Starring Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Joel Edgerton, Alessandra Mastronardi, Ben Kingsley
THE PLOT: Photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) is intrigued when he meets the up and coming actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan), and sets out to photograph the actor, knowing that there is something special about the man, something that could be invaluable for his portfolio. The trouble is that Dean is less than enamoured with the idea of having his photo published in Life magazine.
THE VERDICT: James Dean is one of the most iconic figures of 1950s Hollywood cinema, partly because of the photos that Stock eventually got, but also partly because of his tragic death at the young age of 24. Due to this legendary status, any film about the actor is bound to be problematic, but Life seems to be a movie that struggles to find a consistent tone.
There is little doubt that Dane DeHaan looks remarkably like James Dean in Life, but although his performance feels honest to some degree, it also feels forced and rather like an imitation or an affectation. There are moments of greatness, but there is a lot of overacting and scenery chewing also. Robert Pattinson hits one note throughout the entire film; never seeming to get angry, sad, happy or anything in between, just coasting along and pursuing a man who wants to be pursued. The rest of the cast is made up of Alessandra Mastronardi, Joel Edgerton, and Ben Kingsley as the head of Warner Bros Studios at the time when Dean was flirting with fame.
Luke Davies’ screenplay tries to balance out the notion that Dean and Stock were at odds with one another for most of the film, and harmony and understanding led to wonderful photographs and an advancement in both mens’ careers. This may or may not be true – who can say, 60 years after the fact – but this is the rock that the film is built on, and it’s an unsteady one. By framing the film this way, most of the running time is spent with Stock chasing Dean down, and Dean avoiding him. Since neither character seems to particularly care about anything, this nihilistic vibe spreads through the film, leaving the emotional resolution at the end to fall flat.
As director, Anton Corbijn allows the film to meander through the story, with no sense of urgency or pace. While the relationship between Dean and Stock is interesting to watch, it hinges on the creation of a visual image, which does not lead to a high level of drama, tension or emotion. As mentioned, there are some moments of greatness, but these are perhaps created since we, the audience, already know the fate of one of the central character. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography is beautiful, however, and Anastasia Masaro’s production design makes the film feel like a true period piece.
In all, LIFE is a film about the creation of iconic images in which the images do well, but the icons suffer slightly. DeHaan over does it slightly and Pattinson plays one note; the story is interesting, but suffers through bad pacing, underdeveloped characters and an emotional payoff at the end that doesn’t actually payoff all that well.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
2.5No payoff
  • filmbuff2011

    Had he lived, the iconic and forever young James Dean would be 84 right now. 60 years after his death in a car accident, he remains a symbol of both youthful rebellion and a lost potential that could have rivalled even Marlon Brando. Life is a film that seeks to find out more about the real James Dean, beyond just the three films he left us with before his untimely death. Dennis (Robert Pattinson) is a freelance photographer hired out by Life magazine to find someone interesting to photograph. At a party hosted by famed Hollywood director Nicholas Ray, he meets Dean (Dane DeHaan), then still an unknown actor who came from the heartland of rural America and treaded the boards in the New York theatre scene. Studio head Jack Warner (Ben Kingsley) aims to control the moody Dean, ordering him to do what he says and he’ll make him a star, just like Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart before him. Dennis sees something in Dean too – something far deeper and more soulful. He sets off on the road with Dean to capture his life for a photo essay, showing the bright new talent of Hollywood just waiting to be discovered after the release of his first film, East Of Eden. But Dennis comes to wonder whether Dean is playing him, so he digs deeper to try and find photos that paint a thousand words… Anton Corbijn is the ideal director for Life, given that he’s an accomplished photographer who has made a successful transition to the film world. He re-stages some of the famous photos of Dean with measured compositions, particularly that famous Times Square shot. Going beyond the photos though, he fleshes out the character of Dean as more than just a lost figure of old Hollywood. It’s surprising to hear Warner have a go at Dean, attempting to control every move he makes, but that was what Hollywood was like back then. Stars were the property of the studio they signed a contract with and their every move was monitored. But Dean was a far more elusive and hard-to-pin-down actor than Warner thought. DeHaan is an intense and very fine actor. Here, he captures the soft-spoken but deliberate tone of Dean to perfection. Not an imitation, more of a recreation which sets him apart as one of the better actors to play Dean onscreen. Corbijn is interested in the dynamics of the relationship between his two main characters and DeHaan and Pattinson play off each other well as a result. Obviously, the film is well shot and framed with Corbijn’s painterly eye for detail. The end result is a film that is a celebration of Life itself – and what could have been had Dean gone on to take Hollywood by storm. ****

  • emerb

    James Dean died this month 60 years ago and “Life”, directed by the always impressive Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn and written by Australian novelist Luke Davies, is a film about the star. Dean was arguably one of the most sought-after actors of his time and the first “rock star” of the American film industry. This 24
    year old, good looking, farm-raised boy became an icon and full-on sex symbol for generations of teens and seemed destined for greatness before he was tragically killed in a car accident shortly after the release of “Rebel Without A Cause”.

    Rather than try to cover his entire life, the director gives us an in-depth glimpse into a few weeks which were a significant period in the personal history of Dean and the start of an important friendship. It chronicles the back-story behind the 1955 photo spread that brought the moody young teen to the attention of the
    world just months before his death. Dennis Stock (Robert Pattison) was an ambitious but struggling L.A.–based photographer who took photos of celebrities at red carpet premieres, on film sets or other social functions. He initially encounters Dean (Dane DeHaan) at a Nicholas Ray-hosted Chateau Marmont party and they immediately strike up a tentative rapport – both are mutually intrigued by each other. Stock finds the Indiana-born actor with the strange monotonous voice and awkward presence rather fascinating. Stock himself is a lonely man, estranged from his family and is looking for a break which will help establish his reputation. He begs his agent (Joel Edgerton) for a job in New York City and the movie then follows Stock as he tries to shoot a feature on Dean for “Life” magazine. This is no easy task as Dean proves elusive, constantly wavering between accepting a role and rejecting the entire movie industry. He struggles between his impending fame and the yearning for a simple life back home. Yet Stock remains convinced that Dean will give him the photo essay he needs and that he can be positioned as a symbol of an exciting new movement. However, their relationship is complex as Dean leads him through New York, without much opportunity for pictures and Stock struggles to connect with the enigmatic actor who will not let down his guard. Finally, the two then travel to
    Indiana with Dean to visit his family farm. Here, he gets to discover Jimmy as the farm boy which is in stark contrast to the sullen young Dean that the world knows and a world away from the glitz of Hollywood.

    Rising young actor, Dane DeHaan, takes on the role of the iconic star and gives him his own witty and inventive interpretation. Admittedly, despite costuming and hairstyling, the resemblance isn’t remarkable but his depiction of Dean as a brooding introvert and loner is nonetheless interesting and complex. He gives Dean a complete persona and a full set of mannerisms – monotonous drawl, hunched shoulders, drowsy eyes and peculiar habits. His Dean is wounded and vulnerable and it is a very convincing performance indeed.

    Robert Pattison gives a strong, well-rounded performance too and proves that he is a highly accomplished and charismatic actor. It is the complexity of the relationship between the pair that makes this more than just another Hollywood flick. Alessandra Mastronardi is charming as Dean’s Italian actress lover and Ben Kingsley is brilliant as the larger-than-life head of studio, Jack Warner.

    “Life” is a well-scripted and well-crafted drama which successfully relates the engaging story of one of the most enduring young men in the cinematic sphere whose life behind the scenes remains largely misunderstood. The movie looks sharp and the director pays great attention to detail. Both production design and costumes vividly evoke mid-century Hollywood and New York. I particularly liked
    the final montage of real-life photos. For me, Dean will always be that handsome bloke strolling through Times Square, smoking a cigarette, hands in his overcoat pockets and collar turned up against the rain. It is certainly fair to say that the appeal of the iconic James Dean has well outlasted his small but influential body of work.

  • Randy

    I’ve been really looking forward to this movie, while also being rather skeptical. I’ve enjoyed Dehaan’s performances in numerous films but I found him not to have much depth as James Dean. He played him as rather slow-thinking and somewhat effeminate, as if he was really overthinking it. Pattinson, on the other hand, outshone him at every turn in his quiet and more brooding performance as a photographer straddling various challenges and trying to break out as an artist in his own right, not just a paparazzo or a forgettable documentation of film stills. Needless to say, under a good director, Pattinson can be really intriguing. The 50s are beautifully realized, with fantastic work having gone into recreating Dean’s apartment and other locations, and photographs as featured in the article. Going against the usual biography route, we see an interesting dynamic between two people who are rather guarded, attempt to take advantage of each other but also develop a bond. While not a masterpiece by any means, this is one of the most interesting offers at the multiplex and therefore worth a watch. 3/5