Samuel O'Donnell
7th Sep 2015

Life, the latest biopic/drama from Anton Corbijn (Control, The American, A Most Wanted Man) appears to have its proverbial ducks all in a row.

The film was inspired by the true story of a friendship that developed between Magnum photographer, Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) and actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan) when Stock was commissioned to photograph the actor for LIFE magazine in 1955.

It boasts Oscar worthy, dulcet imagery from cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen, that sings like a serenade to an icon and incorporates robust performances that we’ve come to expect from Pattinson and the ever faithful Joel Edgerton (as editor of LIFE, John Morris). The ageless Ben Kingsley brings a keystone performance, worthy of his stature, as the seminal hollywood mogul, Jack Warner.

Who can argue that James Dean was anything short of an age defining idol - and in Dane Dehaan's embodiment we see flashes of that. This also pertains to impeccable styling of wardrobe, art, hair & makeup departments. In the raw and emotive performance on the train ride to Dean’s home town in Indiana, Dehaan finally let’s us into the tightly sheathed inner workings of his character, and nothing rings truer in the whole film.

However, there is something amiss in the underlying framework of Dehaan’s delineation of the enduring king of cool. His crowning confidence has been disheveled, or even disfigured in this effigy. The smooth and charismatic Dean of history has been usurped by a less confident, reluctant figure who can’t seem to escape his own froggy tone.

Current folklore surrounding the film suggests that DeHaan turned down the role of James Dean five times, as he felt intimidated playing such an awe inspiring figure. Dehaan’s wife, actress Anna Wood, eventually convinced him to take on the role; perhaps somewhat telling of his reticent portrayal of the icon.

The film lumbers on, at a signature Corbijn pace. That is to say, when one hears the swishing jazz at the turn of each act, one expects the story to be swept up and grow in traction. Nonetheless, Corbijn appears to stretch out the rhythm at every given turn, holding on to each moment for as long as possible.

When Dean offers Pattinson’s character, Stock, a Benzedrine - “You ever had a Benny, Denny?” - to make it through the evening, you secretly hope he’s offering you one, too.

When searching for the heart of the film, screenwriter Luke Davies (Candy, Reclaim) doesn’t make it hard to find. Earmarking Stock’s trip to Dean’s hometown of Fairmont, Indiana, with Joel Edgerton’s adeptly voiced Morris - “Where is the soul of your piece?” - he anoints the Magnum photographer for his pilgrimage.

Davies finally tails Stock and Dean’s soul-searching sojourn with Dean’s own sacrament; “let’s see what all the fuss is about East of Eden.” Such prescience suggest that Fairmont was indeed that rich Paradise where James Dean, and now too, Dennis Stock, could find himself.

Despite its rather flecked moments of insight, Life is a beautifully expressed portrayal of a star on the brink of supernova, as seen through the lens of history.

Life opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday September 10.