Life – a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

September 8, 2015 by Roz Tarszisz
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Even if you know little about James Dean you would recognise some of the famous off-screen photographs which have made him a poster pin-up for generations.

“Life” is one of this year’s offering from Academy Award winning Sydney-based producer Emile Sherman whose company See-Saw Films was one of its producers.

Set in 1955, this biopic deals with two young men on the cusp of success. One is James Dean, 24, just before he becomes famous in his first big movie role.  Dennis Stock, 26, a professional photographer, recognises that Dean has something special, “an awkwardness, something very pure” and is intent on capturing that.

Life is based on true events in 1955 when Stock (Robert Pattinson, Maps to the Stars), an LA-based photographer, meets Dean (Dane DeHaan, Kill Your Darlings) prior to the premier of East of Eden, when he was waiting to hear if he had been cast in Rebel Without a Cause.

Stock becomes obsessed with shooting a natural photo essay on Dean and instinctively knows that if he can get them, the photos will make his career.  He works hard to persuade Magnum Photos head John Morris (Joel Edgerton) to agree to sell the project to Life magazine.

Persuading the elusive Dean to be photographed proves difficult and it soon becomes obvious that while he wants to be an actor, Dean does not like the fuss surrounding fame.

“I lose myself in my roles. I don’t want to lose myself in all this other stuff” he tells Stock.

When Dean is hauled before studio head Jack Warner (Ben Kingsley in an abrasive cameo) he is warned that if he wants to get on, he has to toe the studio line. But Dean does not care to conform. His girlfriend, the luminous Pier Angeli  (Alessandra Mastronardi ) is more pragmatic about the price of stardom  but fails to persuade him.

Pattinson plays the conservative Stock as a quiet man, sure of his talent while DeHaan convinces as the charismatic rebel. After they become friends Dean takes Stock home to meet his family. Stock realises that the young actor is a hometown boy with a heart to match, something which makes the Indiana scenes quietly powerful.

This is storytelling at its best where the direction, acting, cinematography and script mesh perfectly.

When the original photographs are shown on-screen at the end, I got shivers down my backbone. In capturing the essence of James Dean, Stock ensured he stays forever fascinating.

Rating 4.5/5   111 mins   Released September 10  Rated MA15+

Starring Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Joel Edgerton, Alessandra Mastronardi, Ben Kingsley

Directed by Anton Corbijin

Script by Luke Davies

Cinematography by Charlotte Bruus

Roz Tarszisz interviews producer Emile Sherman


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