Talking Pictures – ★★
The joy of photography or a still image is that it needs no explanation. The best pictures speak a thousand words, so the saying goes. The trouble with a film about famous photographs is that you must have dialogue. Unfortunately the most enjoyable part of Life is when we see the real photographs that Dennis Stock took of James Dean. Here Robert Pattison plays Dennis and Dane DeHaan plays James Dean. It is uncanny how much DeHaan looks like Dean yet he seems to overplay the awkwardness with none of the cool.
Dean starred in three pictures, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. They came out within 18 months of each other, before his untimely death in 1955 in an automobile accident at the age of 24. Such high profile films and a sudden death propelled him into legend, hailed as a new breed of actor bringing a raw intensity to his parts. We see none of this in Life. Instead we get quiet, pensive Dean on the cusp of stardom realising what fame and being the lapdog of the studio will entail.
Pattison as Stock is equally as morose, trying to be seen as an artist and not just some red carpet joke. He has a young son to support from an early broken marriage and spends his time trying to convince Dean to open up and go with his ideas. There is some brouhaha when Dean and Stock confront each other’s intentions but the film as a whole is devoid of any real passion or spark. Stock is a caricature of a photographer and Pattison fails to give him any real depth. The director Anton Corbijn is giving life to a side of Dean that can only be imagined making a lot of the set pieces and dialogue seem fake. This only pushes us further from the characters and removes any sense of investment.
The whole thing feels like two awkward men who happened to have bumped into each other at a party being forced to socialise, with nothing in common.
Released across Ireland on September 25th 2015