Eye For Film >> Movies >> Life (2015) Film Review
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
Here's your starter for 10: who is Don Hunstein? Starter for 20: who is Dennis Stock?
If you failed on both counts join the club. Hunstein took the iconic photograph of Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo for the cover of his Freewheelin' album and Stock snapped those brooding pics of James Dean in 1955.
If you met Don you would ask him the obvious question: "What was he like?" Ditto Dennis. You wouldn't ask, "What were you like?"
Robert Pattinson, he of the vampire romances, plays Stock in this slow, mumbly, ciggiefied flick (note to Continuity: the cool crowd smoked Chesterfields and Luckies without filter tips, not these Marlboro substitutes) about a jobbing freelance photographer who tries to interest Life magazine in doing a feature on an unknown TV actor from rural Indiana who is about to change everything with his self indulgent performance in Elia Kazan's interpretation of John Steinbeck's epic novel, East Of Eden.
Dean went on to become a teenage role model (before teenagers existed). Brando had already brought The Method into gritty black-and-white social dramas, directed by Kazan, but Dean had the authentic voice of disaffected youth. At the age of 24, after Rebel Without A Cause and Giant and before Somebody Up There Likes Me, he was killed in a car crash.
What was he like?
At the time he was seen as a nonconformist in the ultra conservative, uber authoritarian, image controlling Hollywood. He liked to play the bongos, had friends like Dennis Hopper, but not many, dated Pier Angeli before she ran off with Vic Damone, and refused to participate with the studio driven PR machine.
Years later they said he was gay and couldn't act. But that's not what Life is about.
Dane DeHaan gives a decent performance which doesn't come close to Dean's repressed vulnerability, or single minded purpose. This is the Jimmy from a decent middle class farming background - his uncle and aunt - who read poetry and ignored the intimidating threats from influential bullies, such as Jack Warner (Ben Kingsley). He appears intelligent, solitary, determined. He dances with Eartha Kitt (Kelly McCreary) in a fluent choreographed way. Stock's attempt on the floor looks more genuine - two left feet and a hint of awkwardness.
Stock's back story is not interesting - estranged wife, young son. Pattinson allows DeHaan to take centre stage. He does not try to excite.
What about the plot?
Stock is told by his agent (Joel Edgerton), "You've been chasing a nobody who likes to be chased," before filing his photographs with the rejects.
Dean says, "You've got to live life now like there's no time to waste." A good line with hindsight, but not applicable to this movie which drifts dangerously close to irrelevance.Reviewed on: 23 Sep 2015