By Keeva Stratton
Capturing the fractious dynamic between a budding film star and the photographer whose career would eventually be catapulted by his success, Life provides a thoughtful telling of the legend that is James Dean.
Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) is photographing red carpets, but desperately seeks to find work of greater substance. When he encounters a young James Dean (Dane DeHaan) at a casting party, his gut tells him that this is a man with a story to tell. To tell it, he has his manager negotiate a photographic essay with Life magazine.
But, Dean isn’t the most willing of participants. Seemingly averse to fame, he resists Stock’s initial advances and places him in a difficult situation with his manager.
Eventually though, Dean relents. As he follows Dean around New York City, just prior to him filming Rebel Without a Cause, Stock struggles to get impactful shots. Equally frustrated is Dean with Stock’s lack of artistic confidence or vision; by demanding more, he pushes Stock to get out of his own head and lets the artist in him take over.
A spontaneous trip to the farm where Dean grew up, forces the relationship hurdles to a head. The result is some powerful and timeless images that would be the start of a long and successful career for Stock and a lasting portrait of Dean, who would die a few months later.
Life is a retelling of Stock’s documenting of James Dean, which would go on to result in some of the most iconic images of the short-lived screen star. But getting them certainly wasn’t easy.
James Dean’s fleeting life continues to inspire filmmakers. This in-depth portrayal focusses less on adding fuel to his legend and more on the creative relationships that underpin iconic art (in this case Stock’s now infamous photographs).
DeHaan takes on the challenge of James Dean with seeming ease. Again, he proves his ability to successfully capture the essence of historical figures (having previously brought to life the beat generation’s Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings).
Anton Corbjin’s moody style is wonderfully matched to Dean’s own aloof temperament, and the result is a slow but interesting portrait of a young man whose legend lived well beyond his passing.
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Dane Dehaan, Joel Edgerton, Alessandra Mastronardi, Ben Kingsley
Release Date: 10 September
Reviewer rating: 3/5