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Film review: Life – Anton Corbijn celebrates James Dean’s friendship with photographer

Helped by some good acting, former photographer’s film really gets under the skin of the young actor as he gets to know Dennis Stock, whose photo essay for Life magazine helped make Dean an icon

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 April, 2016, 6:01pm

4/5 stars

There probably isn’t a director better suited to Life than Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn. The former photographer, who made his name shooting bands like U2 and Depeche Mode, understands keenly the relationship between snapper and subject. Indeed, his 2007 debut, Control, dealt with the suicide of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, the British band he so indelibly captured in inky black-and-white at the outset of their career.

Set in 1955, Corbijn’s latest film peers through the lens at actor James Dean (Dane DeHaan), on the cusp of stardom, and Dennis Stock, a freelance photographer whose photo essay in Life magazine helped cement Dean’s iconic status. Meeting at a party, Stock recognises something in Dean, pestering his editors to run a story on this rising star, shortly before the release of East of Eden.

“You’re chasing a nobody,” says John Morris (Joel Edgerton), Stock’s boss at the Magnum photo agency, but Life is more about friendship than fame, as the initially wary Dean and the troubled Stock gradually find common ground. Stock famously captured Dean in Times Square, but it’s the scenes where he returns with Dean to his family’s farm in the US state of Indiana that really see Corbijn get under the skin of the actor.

While tragedy is right around the corner – Dean died just seven months later, aged 24, in a car accident – the film is more celebration than graveside vigil. DeHaan captures Dean’s essence impressively, while Pattinson delivers his best work since David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. As for Corbijn, depicting the ’50s without caricature, it’s a suitably skilled snapshot.

Life opens on April 14

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