Life Review

The Plot

A young photographer eager to prove his own artistic skills latches onto actor James Dean who already seems poised to become a reluctant superstar. The pair strikes an uneasy friendship as they work on creating an intimate photo essay that would be regarded as iconic images of a true Hollywood icon.

The Good

Dane DeHaan manages to produce a convincing impersonation of a timeless silver screen icon with the help of some carefully managed makeup and hairstyling. Though lacking in Dean’s unique natural rugged charms, DeHaan worked hard to bulk up and pour his considerable acting talent into transforming himself. The effect is pretty successful and at times he bears a more than passing physical resemblance to the Rebel Without A Cause star.

Director Anton Corbijn likewise does a good job of crafting a look of costumes, locations and cinematography that captures both the elegance and emptiness of Hollywood’s golden era. The film’s bleak and stark visual style is particularly effective during Dean and Stock’s time in New York and at the Dean family farmhouse in rural Indiana.

Speaking of looking good, Robert Pattinson’s devoted army of fans will no doubt be pleased to see him once again brooding away as frustrated photographer Dennis Stock. Even if it’s a little unfortunate that his matinee idol looks at times too obviously eclipse DeHaan’s James Dean impersonation.

The Bad

Although DeHaan does his best to become Dean, in truth it’s a fairly tough challenge for any actor. Aside from the obvious physical differences, in truth there are few people capable of exuding the ageless charisma that exudes from Dean’s tragically brief screen credits and the rare images that survived of him off camera.

Robert Pattinson has worked hard to establish his acting credibility after being catapulted to leading man stardom by the commercially successful but critically mocked Twilight franchise. Unfortunately his determination to avoid trading on his handsome looks has led him to take a series of downbeat roles that eschews his potential charisma in favour of glum brooding.

Alongside DeHaan’s already overly awkward Dean, Pattinson’s desperate photographer is equally introverted. It makes for an uneasy and sterile relationship between the pair. With Pattinson’s character cast as a seemingly selfish absentee father while James Dean is mostly reduced to pretentious mumbling, the sad truth is neither remains particularly likeable throughout the film’s overly long run time.

Aside from a few rare moments of vulnerability for DeHaan’s Dean, the film mostly fails to inject any real personality or convincing depth into either lead.

The Ugly Truth

For those who relish in nostalgia for the golden era of Hollywood this will be a welcome celebration of a unique silver screen star. Those with less initial enthusiasm may find the film’s slow pace and downbeat tone strains patience a little.

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