Dane DeHaan excels in this admirable if occasionally languid James Dean biopic…
The most interesting and commendable thing about Life is that it resists the temptation that almost every biopic falls for and doesn’t try to document a great swathe of Dean’s life. Focusing its attention on the future legend and the photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) over the course of just two weeks provides a snapshot of sorts. It produces a portrait in which their personalities and goals can be measured and studied in depth during a formative point in both their careers. Stock, who is on assignment to capture the rising star ahead of him filming Rebel Without a Cause, believes he is getting first dibs on showcasing the latest Hollywood talent to the world before anyone else knows who he is. As we all know though, his photos will instead help make the man iconic when he is killed in a car crash less than a year later.
It’s a really interesting couple of weeks to have chosen to film and the understated, focused approach ticks every box on my list of how to capture a star like James Dean and portray him humanely and with intelligence, rather than simply opting for a shallow and loud movie about the cool Dean figure. It is then with some great regret that I have to say that Life cannot fully grasp the great potential which is within its reach. It is too often meandering without a clear purpose. Torpid without reaching insight. Although both Pattinson and DeHaan give excellent performances, the film around them struggles to truly drill down into their psyches and their relationship during these two weeks.
Whilst DeHaan is undeniably the star of the show here with a very nicely judged perfromance that never feels derivative nor descends into mere mimicry. He gives us a Dean who is complex and emotionally accessible and the film is far richer for it. Opposite him though Pattinson should not be ignored, giving life to a man who is often difficult to understand and who often makes decisions we struggle to understand. He elevates the words on his script commendably, however he (and DeHaan) are both castrated by that script which does not let them go deeper into their characters and the relationship which they form.
Life is one of those frustrating near misses. It can boast two great performances as well as direction and a script which have chosen an intelligent and subtle approach to what could so easily have become an overblown mess. Unfortunately they get the balance wrong and too often mistake inactivity for authenticity.
Life is available to own on DVD, Blu-ray and Download from today (1st February), will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!