Life Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Joel Edgerton. Directed by Anton Corbijn. Rated R. Available on Video on Demand.
Earlier this year, The End of the Tour examined the life of author David Foster Wallace through the lens of several days he spent with Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, as one artist on the verge of massive success sparred with another who was hungry for that same kind of success. Anton Corbijn’s Life takes a similar approach to the relationship between actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan) and photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), who in 1955 took a series of pictures of Dean for Life magazine, including the iconic image of Dean in a rainy Times Square, jacket collar upturned, cigarette dangling from his lips.
Corbijn, who has spent decades as a rock photographer, clearly understands the give-and-take between photographer and subject, especially when that subject is a temperamental artist. The movie is as much about Stock as it is about Dean, and each struggles with his ambitions in his own way. Dean is on the cusp of a level of fame that makes him uncomfortable, while Stock yearns for the kind of recognition that seems to come effortlessly to the young actor.
Although it’s about the creation of indelible images, Life is Corbijn’s most straightforward film visually, and the script by Luke Davies is sometimes a little clumsy in the way it lays out its themes. But Pattinson and DeHaan are both strong, portraying real people with a mix of imitation and individuality. Like a good photographer, they capture the subject’s essence while adding their own perspectives.