Director Anton Corbijn’s Control, about the final days of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, was one of the best biopics I’ve ever seen. Now Corbijn has turned his attentions to the great James Dean (Dane DeHaan) in Life, a sometimes-engaging account of the actor’s interactions with Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), photographer for Life magazine, shortly before Dean’s death.
DeHaan plays a stripped-down, decidedly unglamorous version of the icon, with a performance that is perhaps a little too stifled and mumbling at times. Corbijn and company are shooting for a low-key portrayal here, and they succeed. The idea behind the film is good—a quiet look inside the back-story of James Dean. It’s fun to see some of Stock’s more famous stills of Dean come to life.
The film suffers a bit due to DeHaan’s sometimes-frustrating line deliveries, although he does look like Dean at some angles. Much of the film deals with Stock’s family troubles, and that also drags the film down a bit.
I suppose a rollicking biopic about Dean would not be in order; he was a complicated guy, probably a little tortured, and not necessarily the type to hang from the rafters at Hollywood parties. Still, Corbijn’s film isn’t quite up to the level of Control, although it certainly has its moments, especially when Ben Kingsley’s quietly sinister Jack Warner is occupying the screen. I’m thinking Dean’s life probably wasn’t as lonely and sad as this film depicts, but it probably was a bit moody.
Life is available on demand and via iTunes.