Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Dane Dehaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton.
Plot: Life is a biopic about James Dean’s turbulent and short life and it is centres mostly on his relationship with Life photographer Dennis Stock.
I had been waiting for this film for such a long time and when I finally had the chance to watch it I was very pleased with the result – if you’re familiar with James Dean’s acting skills and life you probably won’t be disappointed by this film. The director Anton Corbijn and the cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen – who also worked with Danish director Thomas Vintenberg for Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) and Hunky Dory (2011) – both did an excellent job in recreating the places in which Dean lived and loved the most.
The story starts with an already famous James Dean (Dane Dehaan) who has just finished shooting East Of Eden (1955) and whose life is soon going to change as Jack Warner (Ben Kingsley) and his manager Roger (Kristian Bruun) try to schedule his life and routine to make him a film star for the Hollywood cinema industry. In the midst of all these events we meet young photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) who works at the Magnum Photos Agency and, foreseeing his rough talent, wishes to make a photoshoot of him for Life magazine. Eventually, we see James Dean get the leading role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).
James and Dennis seem to start off on the wrong foot but they get to know each other better over time and James even shares with Dennis some pivotal and personal events from his past. On this note I’d suggest that you pay much attention to the train trip the two of them make to get to Indiana as it was a very touching sequence.
I was especially touched by Dane Dehaan’s performance as the iconic figure. Having heard and seen the real James Dean speak and act, Dehaan’s way of portraying him was very impressive – his accent, moves, gestures, were familiar courtesy of their similarity to the real man. I was already knowledgeable of Dehaan’s acting skills so I wasn’t surprised by his excellent performance, and it was clear that he put in a lot of work to seem as similar to James Dean as possible in this particular movie. I was also happily surprised by Robert Pattinson’s acting as, I must be honest, I’m not really a fan of his acting career and I’ve never thought of him being quite as talented as others would suggest. Although, most of the time, it seemed as if it was all Dane Dehaan’s work and it felt like so often he might as well have been talking to himself, Robert Pattinson’s performance in this film was the best of his career, for sure.
The movie did an excellent job of presenting the idea that James Dean was an absent figure lost in his own world and thoughts, who didn’t care much about social conventions and even less about Hollywood. He didn’t want to be a star, he just enjoyed acting and was annoyed by the nosy press and all of the negative results of fame that surrounded him. I think his relationship with his mother was the most important thing in his life and when he lost her, he lost a piece of himself too and it was never to be found again in anything or anyone. That’s what I felt by Dehaan’s portrayal of him – Dean was always searching for a paternal figure he never had in his life and in order to fill the void he played all these troubled young rebels that actually were very similar to his real character. I was also pleased to see at the end of the film the real pictures taken by Dennis Stock, which made him famous and fostered his career later on. Adding this precise detail made it all seem even more true to life.
I felt sympathy for James because he seemed so lonely, often wishing to go home and find the peace he was always searching for throughout his brief but iconic life. The conclusion of the movie illustrated this excellently, with James quoting Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley at the end. It was a heartbreaking for me and surely a must-see for any fan of James Dean or those interested in his work or iconic stature.
I'm particularly passionate about British and German cinema, and I'm a sucker for a good old war film.