LIFE (Anton Corbijn). 111 minutes. Opens Friday (December 4). See listings. Rating: NN
Anton Corbijn’s Life imagines the brief friendship of photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson) and his greatest subject, an unknown actor named James Dean (Dane DeHaan), whom Stock shot for Life magazine just before Dean became a superstar – and just six months before the actor’s death in a car crash.
The images themselves are genuinely iconic, both for their striking composition and for their revelatory glimpses of Dean’s wary self-consciousness, but the movie around the snapshots is stiff and padded.
Screenwriter Luke Davies frames the story as a muted study of a driven artist trying to capture an elusive target, but dramatically Life is just repeated scenes where Stock follows Dean around trying to set up a shoot, with Dean eventually agreeing in time for Stock to make his deadline.
Pattinson and the almost unrecognizable DeHaan have great screen chemistry for a while, it’s enough simply to watch them smoking cigarettes and taking each other’s measure. But gradually it becomes clear that this is all Life has on its mind.
It’s odd that Corbijn, a gifted still photographer in his own right, has so little to say about the relationship between shooter and subject, or the impermanence of celebrity. Or even, y’know, life.