Review: Life (2015)
A Life lived fast.James Dean. When we hear that name what do we think of? Youthful icon. Screen legend. Rebellious. Cool. All have been posted to the name of Dean over the decades since his premature death in 1955 but how many of us would mention the words, shy, vulnerable and complicated. The silver screens rising star came out of nowhere, had a fleeting moment in the sun and then as quickly as he appeared, he was lost to us, dying at the eternally youthful age of twenty-four.
There was very little mentioned about 'Life', it just seemed to appear but I was intrigued by a semi-biographical tale of a Hollywood legend whose name has survived the test of time despite only ever starring in three films. So after a journey that involved a train excursion and a bus trip, I managed to make it to one of the very few cinema's that have included 'Life' in their weekly line-up. For a time I thought I would be the only person brave enough to see it until a woman walked in and the audience became two.
The first thing that really leaps out at me is the quality of the cast. A film that includes Ben Kingsley, Robert Pattinson and Joel Edgerton should of been marketed better than this but perhaps there is a method to their madness. Anton Corbijn brings a distinguished resume to the directors chair and has been able to deliver a very delicate view of a young rising star who was much more than just the moody, difficult new kid on the block that ruffled the feathers of Hollywood's power players. The audience gets to see a genuinely vulnerable James Dean brought back to life with a stand out performance by the little known Dane DeHaan.
DeHaan's execution of the immortal screen icon was always going to make or break the production. A brave decision for Corbijn to make but a truly inspired one as DeHaan completely transforms himself into James Dean right down to the 50's stars mumbling vocals and uncomfortable nature. Pattinson portrays Life Magazine photographer, Dennis Stock who is responsible for capturing Dean in his raw and natural poses that have become famous throughout the world. Unfortunately for Pattinson, he is completely left in the shadow of DeHaan's performance and has difficulty asserting his presence in his leading role. Ben Kingsley is absolutely superb as Jack Warner, the head of Warner Brothers Studio who has a difficult time trying to rein in the young rebellious Dean. Edgerton adds a rounded performance as Stock's boss but all eyes are on DeHaan as he moves from scene to scene totally immersed in his character.
With a set that transports the viewer back to the golden years of Hollywood when studios owned their acting stars and everybody sucked back the soothing smoke from a death stick, the film highlights just how cutthroat the movie making business was and still is. Dean was a prodigious talent but didn't want anything to do with the regimented routines that were thrust upon him by Warner. He felt most comfortable around the people he trusted and only truly felt at home on the farm in rural Indiana.
This is a great glimpse into the life of an immortal Hollywood icon whose talent could of taken him anywhere.