Life shows us the story behind 1955’s iconic James Dean photographs in LIFE magazine, shot by Dennis Stocker. Here Dean is played by Dane Dehaan, and Stocker by Robert Pattinson.
Life promised much: it’s about an interesting subject, it’s got a staller cast and from the opening frame it promises something interesting and art based. However this is not what we get. Unfortunately Life goes no deeper than the photographs it’s about, and at times almost subtracts depth that was already there.
A key flaw within Life is its dreadfully slow pacing, yes it’s an indie movie and it’s trying to slowly ease you into its world, but this is the world of Hollywood so its needs to have a certain pace and madness to it. Ultimately Life only starts to pick up in the last twenty minutes so when you are finally starting to enjoy the film, it ends. You can tell when a film isn’t engaging you enough because you start focusing on issues that don’t matter. You start thinking about how Dehaan’s hair really bears no resemblance to Dean’s. You start to think about how the scene in Times Square looks fake and green screened – something that you just wouldn’t notice if you cared about what was happening. I also never really bought Dehaan’s performance as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a fine actor. Just not in this movie. He plays Dean as a two dimensional irritating kid who thinks he is more important that he actually is. At times it felt like the film was deliberately trying to get you to dislike him, but it wasn’t. Ben Kingsley feels like he’s from a different film, in Life generally everyone is underacting and going for subtlety but Kingsley marches in and starts chewing the scenery like there is no tomorrow in a very jarring and awkward role.
There is some good though. Pattinson is very impressive in what is a difficult role as the prickly photographer, and is the best thing in the film by quite some distance. There are certain scenes that hold the attention, the dance scene is a highlight. And the film overall does look fantastic. And I think you can definitely tell it was directed by an ex-photographer. However with that comes a certain lack in narrative ability. And of course the actual photographs that the film is based on are shown at the end, and they really are something special.
Overall, Life isn’t a bad film. Just a horrendously disappointing one. It could have been so much, but in the end was just very mediocre.