Life chronicles the blossoming friendship between actor James Dean and his photographer Dennis Stock, before the release of East of Eden in 1955, which was Dean’s first leading role. The film stars Dane DeHaan as James Dean and Twilight sensation Robert Pattinson as Dennis Stock.
The film has remained surprisingly low-key, which may be for the best, as it leaves little more than a sour taste in the mouth. It’s a shame, because there definitely seems to be lots of potential from the get-go. Director Anton Corbijn has a flair for production design, and it’s especially evident in Life, as he has done a fine job of capturing a heavily romanticised period. This is perfectly set to a crisp jazz soundtrack by Owen Pallett, which illuminates the asperity of the era.
However, the slow-burning story fails to deliver on the dramatic explosion that it promises, and fizzles out by the end. Dean’s famous moody and supposed self-loathing personality is replicated by DeHaan throughout, with suggestions of a climactic epiphany by the end that would reveal the reasons for his behaviour. Instead, the film offers little explanation, leaving the audience wanting. The chemistry between the two lead characters is never completely fortified either; the spark, which would make these two disparately fascinating characters connect, never fully ignites. The more interesting elements of the budding relationship – such as the faint homoerotic undertones – are never properly explored, which could have added a certain depth to the feature.
Even though DeHaan’s portrayal of Dean is more impersonation than absolute assimilation, he still manages to pull off the rebel’s little nuances, making him (for the most part) convincing. Robert Pattinson has received a lot of flak for his post-Twilight film choices, but his performance as Stock is not only a film highlight, but a career highlight as well. His natural charm and charisma take over, and it almost becomes more enticing to watch his character than to witness the life of the alluring James Dean unravel – undeniably an impressive feat. Even though Pattinson’s character is ostensibly the protagonist, Life still very much feels like a James Dean biopic; DeHaan seems to have the spotlight fixed on him in every scene. Perhaps it’s a case of “what could have been”.
Life is released nationwide on 25th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for Life here: