Anton Corbijn (CONTROL, THE AMERICAN) set out to capture the hype and festishism of James Dean that defined his short life and career with his slither-of-a-biopic LIFE, and it seems Dane DeHaan has tried to portray him as both the pulsating force of ‘rebellious’ revolution and the fragile, doe-eyed boy that he was. He fairs well, and has a natural touch of the Americana rock star about him despite being fairly unknown. The film, set for release on the 25th September, just shown at the Berlin Film Festival, focuses on a small window of the actor’s life in 1955, on the verge of terrifyingly intense fame as never seen before, and his relationship with the success-hungry Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), photographer for Life magazine.
LIFE glints with original Corbijnian details that are at times textually pleasing. He seemed a good fit for the film, coming from a photographer’s background and known for his dark, rockstarry CONTROL aesthetic. But besides the attentive design, the film feels a watery nothing, and truly without a cause (maybe that was the point…?). The tone feels wrong, and almost self-consciously consumed with the historical atmosphere that bit by bit loses momentum after nearly two hours. Corbijn has gone in tight and concisely by choosing such a particular time frame, but instead of capturing an enlightening truth in this specific way, it seems as though he has accidentally missed all the action of interest in the man’s very interesting life.
DeHaan brings a moodiness to the role which is convincing, and his relationship with Stock bounces the plot subtly and believably to its pre-empting end just before he’s about to embark on REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. This is certainly an unexpected, even refreshing rendition of an ode to a legend, but I for one found it far too limp for such a strong character. The title suggests a micro-examination of someone so legendary in the history of American culture, any bigger time frame would be overwhelming. It’s a shame the result is so life-less.