D: Anton Corbijn. DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen. W: Luke Davis. Starring: Dane DeHaan/Robert Pattinson/Ben Kinsgley/Joel Edgerton/Kristian Bruun/Alessandra Mastronardi.
As the leaves begin to change, fall is upon us and once again its time to get through the slog of films and gear up for another award season. Life has made it over here in the UK before its December release in the US, but this will hardly help its appeal back home.
Similar to recent films My Week With Marilyn or Hitchcock, Life is what I would term a chapter biopic. Rather than attempting to chronicle a subject from birth to death, the chapter biopic picks a specific moment in time. More importantly, the chapter biopic routinely involves an outsider’s interactions with the biopic subject. In a sense the film is as much about who this subject was to the lay person, their sparkle briefly entering someone else’s orbit.
Life follows freelance photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) who feels trapped in LA shooting red carpets and movie stills. He meets a pre-Rebel Without a Cause James Dean (Dane DeHaan) and the two begin a weird love/hate friendship. Dennis is persistent about shooting a spread for Life magazine of Dean who continuously evades the idea only to give into Stock once they’ve returned to New York City. Of course, this all leads to the creation of the famous Life spread of Dean back home in Indiana, his last visit before his death at twenty-four.
The majority of audiences will know the spread or of Dean’s death leaving little surprises to be had here. So the film must rely entirely on its leads chemistry and their performances. Pattinson continues to look uncomfortable on screen, pulling his jaw and posing like his Twilight days. His performance is inconsistent, he hardly seems to want to make eye contact with his fellow actors. DeHaan, who is one of my favorite young actors, plays Dean like the weird maverick he was. He cannot hide behind a wide smile and looks like James Franco so rather his Dean is a Marlon Brando sounding slightly brawny poet. DeHaan does a good job building a character and considering Dean’s death was sixty years ago and he only made three films the impression of who he is really the only surviving element. His image as iconography has eclipsed his talent or memory.
Ultimately, Life cannot sustain interest in its subject as it relies on shadows of an actor long gone, shadows that are better represented in the famous photographs than in cinema. The film is not able to create any real buildup to Indiana and stalls out multiple times. The personal signification of the photographs falls flat as it is left to a end card. Anton Corbijn’s previous film, Control, is far superior in composition, energy, and performance. There simply is not enough here for Life to sink its teeth into.