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Life Review - Dane DeHaan INFECTS The Screen As James Dean

And the cameraman is fighting to keep up.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… People always talk talk of actors "dominating" a film; they deliver a performance so awe-inspiring that all other elements of the movie-making process take a backseat. Heck, that was my concluding sentiment on Tom Hardy in Legend. But Dane DeHaan can go one better. As James Dean in Life he defines the film. Jimmy (as he's known to his acquaintances, and over the course of the film you'll definitely come to feel like one) is reluctant to enter the frame and desperate to find safety in its edges when he has, forcing the cameraman to keep up. The editing is likewise not done by some all-seeing eye, but at the whim of Dean's concentration. A passing waiting distracts him during a speech? We cut. DeHaan infects the screen with his performance, with Anton Corbijn shaping his movie around the actor.
Where this is most emotively felt is in the pacing. The film ambles through the worlds of contract photography and the late days of Golden Age Hollywood with the same self-professed laziness of its subject, only reaching for a conclusion when Dean himself has realised his life is forever going to change with fame. It's a ballsy move on Corbijn's part, requiring the audience to invest a lot on promise, but is pulled off thanks in no small part to DeHaan's performance (Amazing Spider-What?). This slow-burn effect is particularly impressive given the more well-known parts of Dean's life are still in the future - the film is set around the release of East Of Eden, with his role in Rebel Without A Cause still uncertain - instead honing in on the now-iconic Life (there's the literal justification of the very thematic title) photo essay on the rising star. You'll know the pictures - Dean stalking through an empty Times Square and goofing about at an Indiana farm - but you don't know what was happening just out shot.
Dean isn't the cool teenager of Rebel, begging the photograph to just be taken all ready as tears swell; he's a young adult thrust into the spotlight when all he wants to do is, quite literally, be someone else. Smartly, the real-world images are used when we finally reach publication, which only furthers the distance between Jimmy Dean: The Man and James Dean: The Myth. Through all this it's almost easy to forget that the film also stars Robert Pattinson as Dennis Stock, the photographer who drove the Life shoot to completion. Dennis has his own arc and Pattinson's performance captures beautifully the image of directionless maturity (Twi-What?), but it's only ever a counterpoint to DeHaan. Still, it certainly promises some interesting things in the future. Life is most certainly an actor's film, but it's the best sort - one where the director is constantly striving to accentuate his performers. You'll never view James Dean in the same way again.
Life is in UK cinemas on 25th September and US cinemas on 4th December.
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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.