dir Anton Corbijn
scr Luke Davies
prd Iain Canning, Benito Mueller, Wolfgang Mueller, Christina Piovesan, Emile Sherman
with Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Stella Schnabel, Alessandra Mastronardi, Kristian Bruun, Jack Fulton, Kelly McCreary, Kristen Hager, Peter Lucas, Michael Therriault
release UK 25.Sep.15, US 4.Dec.15
15/Canada Film4 1h51
Coffee talk: DeHaan and Pattinson

dehaan edgerton kingsley
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Life This true story has a strong script and striking direction from Corbijn, a celebrity photographer inventively telling the story of a celebrity photographer. Yet while the performances are strong, DeHaan never quite nails James Dean's physicality or spirit. Which kind of leaves the film off-balance.

In early 1955 while working in Los Angeles, freelance photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson) meets unknown young actor James Dean (DeHaan), who has just finished filming East of Eden and is up for the lead in Rebel Without a Cause. Dennis' agent (Edgerton) gets him a commission from Life magazine, and he tenaciously follows the rather loose and elusive James to New York and then to his rural Indiana home to get the shots. Along the way, these two young men inspire each other to continue pursuing their own dreams.

Aa expected, Corbijn's clever eye captures the period beautifully, using light and colour to bring out unspoken themes and hint at a lot more in this budding friendship than the script seems willing to explore. The events take place just as the old Hollywood studio system is coming up against the rising power of young stars. This is played out intriguingly in the clash between controlling mogul Jack Warner (a scene-chewing Kingsley) and the restless, defiant Dean.

Oddly, the script shifts back and forth between Stock and Dean, kind of undermining both perspectives by never quite settling on one. But this means that both lead actors give deeply felt performances. This is Pattinson's most layered performance yet, getting into Stock's head as his career jostles against a messy relationship with his ex-wife and young son (Schnabel and Fulton). Opposite him, DeHaan is thoughtful and likeable, although he doesn't look or sound like the real Dean and never captures Dean's magnetic, hungry charm.

Admittedly, Dean's raw energy is difficult to re-create, but the role needs a more wiry, mesmerising actor. DeHaan nails the dramatic intensity, but feels too soft. And the script is a bundle of vague innuendo where some more overt spark would have made everything both more involving and more provocative. As is, it feels like a telling portrait of a time and place. And in Pattinson's eyes it finds some striking things to say about work, life and artistic passion. But it never quite takes the breath away, like Stock's actual photos do in the closing credits.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 10.Sep.15

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