Life review: a very professional piece of work, but it’s terribly hard to love

Anton Corbijn’s latest is gorgeous, cool and infuriatingly insubstantial

Donald reviews Older than Ireland, and Tara reviews Anton Corbijn’s Life. Plus, Donald talks to Miss You Already director Catherine Hardwicke

Film Title: Life

Director: Anton Corbijn

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Alessandra Mastronardi, Stella Schnabel, Kristian Bruun

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 111 min

Fri, Sep 25, 2015, 07:00

   

It looked as if, after the loosely formed Control and the positively slack The American, Anton Corbijn had decided to embrace plot with A Most Wanted Man. He lets it go again with the gorgeous, cool, infuriatingly insubstantial Life. The new film inhabits a world that the former NME photographer knows well. The clever, charismatic Robert Pattinson plays Dennis Stock, the snapper who, on an assignment for Life magazine, caught that famous image of James Dean ploughing, collar up, through the slush in Times Square. Dane DeHaan immerses himself in the actor skirting stardom. Pattinson (who actually looks more like Dean) offers the audience his eyes. It’s a very professional piece of work, but it’s terribly hard to love.

The film takes place in the period abutting the premiere of East of Eden, when Dean has yet to hear if he will play the lead in Rebel Without a Cause. Stock, one of the few convinced of the actor’s potential, works hard at flogging the shoot to Life and persuading the nascent icon to comply. Meanwhile, Dean infuriates the studio bosses – notably Ben Kingsley as an imperious Jack Warner – by refusing to play the publicity game. The shoot comes together when Dean invites Stock to the family farm in Indiana.

A lot of effort has gone into the creation of these worlds. Charlotte Bruus Christensen, the great Danish cinematographer, gives us a New York that looks to have been composed from Blue Note LP sleeves. By golly, DeHaan works hard at perfecting Dean’s introspective hip. If Life is to be believed the actor was more affected in real life than he was on screen.

All of this will delight those already devoted to the myth. Visiting Venusians may, however, reasonably wonder why so much attention is being paid to an intermittently articulate bongo player with a pathological gratitude problem.

Truly lovely, for all that.