Review: In Life, photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn (A Most Wanted Man) is writing a love letter to a subject which makes big name out of him—artist photography—while, at the same time, unraveling the bond between ill-fated Hollywood’s most promising star of the 1950s, James Dean (portrayed by Dane DeHaan), with freelance photographer, Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson).
In a more broad statement, Life is a reenactment of Dean’s most iconic photo essay entitled ‘Moody New Star’, which becomes a widespread phenomenon after its first publication in the March issue of LIFE Magazine in 1955. Yet, beyond that, Life could’ve been a complex character study centered on the bond between the two mirroring characters within their tenure from L.A. to New York to Indiana before making it to the fame.
Often, James Dean is personified as an untamed rebel of Hollywood star in regards to his tragic end, but Life seeks a more subtle side of him—a bit shy and insecure persona of him, which makes a perfect mirror to Dennis Stock’s more ambitious but clueless persona. The two hooks up quickly after an encounter at Nick Ray’s party prior to casting of Rebel Without A Cause. Stock’s among the first to recognize Dean’s peculiarity as he seals agreement to make a photo essay of the late star’s life.
Life is surprisingly a showcase of mature performance by DeHaan and Pattinson. There’s a huge amount of energy emanated from the feat’s performance in portraying each side of the story; although, the injected energy is not as voluptuous and explosive as expected. Pattinson has broadened his post-Twilight resume with another clear-cut side-kicking performance—an expansion to his supporting side in Cronenberg’s Maps to the Star. Meanwhile, DeHaan makes a convincing reenactment of James Dean’s “unmarketed” persona, which includes annoying breathy voice and an ambiguous nod to his sexuality. However, the two excels more as a feat rather than individual; their on-screen bromance is so strong that I probably need to drop the “B” out of it.
While benefited from the leading actors’ intriguing performance, Life doesn’t quite live it up as a story to tell. Slow-paced and detail-focused, Life is more like Dennis Stock’s ambition gone wrong. It has the stars but it’s clueless on its own goal; Life keeps floating for the whole duration and never gets settled to a more anchoring point until it ends. Only some hopes of the final photo essay result that keeps me watching until the end; and it’s surprisingly doesn’t conclude anything with anything.
Doesn’t make a moving story, even a proper biopic that tells story, but Life has more than itself: a mature performance from both leading actor.