Published Dec 03, 2015In Anton Corbijn's Life, James Dean (played by Dane DeHaan) is a young star on the rise, resistant to the fame thrust upon him. His confusion and contempt for the industry is captured by the lens of Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), a member of the vaunted Magnum photo agency on assignment for LIFE magazine. Together, the two form a friendship bonding over their disdain for authority and convention.
The film isn't just an anthem to a star dying young, but a snapshot of the awkward, fumbling relationship between famed photographer Dennis Stock, and timeless screen icon James Dean that unfolded off-screen. Artfully executed (at the cost of commercial appeal), Life depicts both Dean and Stock as paragons of anxiety and uncertainty, embodying a youthful ambivalence about the changing world around them.
At times, its attempt to be artistic come off as a little jarring; the brooding anxiety of Pattinson and DeHaan is often lacking in reason, the emotional turmoil seemingly baseless. Oddly, there's scant reference to Dean's predilection for fast cars, which ultimately led to his undoing; the absence of key narrative moments such as this, which might have more fully developed the arc of Dean, miss an opportunity to give greater depth to the story.
Ben Kingsley performs well as studio head Jack Warner and Joel Edgerton does an admiral job as Pattinson's agent, while fans of the TV series Orphan Black will be pleased to see hometown talent Kristian Bruun continue his rise in the industry. Bruun plays an agitated handler to Jack Warner, tasked with keeping an unruly Dean marching in lockstep with the demands of the Warner Brothers film house, and is effective in the role.
Rounding out the Canadian connection, violin virtuoso Owen Pallett scores the movie, giving additional emotional weight to the turbulent 1950s setting.