Monday, December 7, 2015

The Trouble with LIFE: My Review of the Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson Film on the Relationship Between Actor James Dean and Photographer Dennis Stock

I just finished watching LIFE (2015), starring Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson. The film focuses on the relationship between photographer Dennis Stock (Pattinson) and actor James Dean (DeHaan) during their collaboration on photographs for LIFE magazine in 1955, including the iconic photo of Jimmy walking in Times Square, wearing his famous black coat, with a cigarette dangling from his downcast lips.

James Dean by Dennis Stock, Times Square, NYC, February 1955

As a big James Dean fan, and a Toronto resident who actually saw some of the scenes filmed downtown, I have been looking forward to this movie since I first found out about it. Biopics in general are difficult to rate. No matter how talented the actor, it is hard to bring to life - in this case - a cultural icon successfully.  

First of all, it is impossible to look exactly like the real person, so most actors try to simply emulate the person's style and mannerisms and hope the audience finds his/her performance convincing enough. Secondly, with someone like James Dean, who died before the Internet/mass media age, there are no talk shows or paparazzi videos to really show what he was like when he wasn't acting, so filmmakers tend to tackle the rebellious/temperamental side of Jimmy and encourage their lead actor to play up this image only, usually to a fault. 

Actors Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson in LIFE (2015)

This brings me to the first issue I had with LIFE. Actor Dane DeHaan, who plays James Dean, sticks to a monotonous mumble throughout the film - one of the most hyped up Jimmy traits - whereas from audio recordings such as the interview Jimmy did on the set of Rebel Without A Cause, we know that in real life, he had an intellectual, clear-spoken, and articulate side to him, especially when he was discussing something he was passionate about. Unfortunately, in LIFE, even when Dean is speaking intelligently, he sounds monotone and incoherent, which makes it hard to take him seriously.