|'Great photos do not need to have their story told: they are in and of themselves the story.'|
It's almost impossible to know for sure whether this is the case or not, but Life has the whiff of a project too close to a director's heart. In this case Anton Corbijn, sometime photographer of mercurial talents, is the director; Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson), sometime photographer of mercurial talents, the protagonist; James Dean (Dane DeHaan), mercurial talent for too-sort-a-time, the subject.
Corbijn rose to fame as a film director with Control, an insightful look into the life of the tragic Ian Curtis, which was simultaneously incisive, understanding and sensitively critical. There's none of that within Life, a film which manages to find little of interest to tell in its story of Stock's meeting with Dean and the iconic, movement-defining portraiture which would follow.
The problem in that equation is somewhat easy to diagnose. Great photos do not need to have their story told: they are in and of themselves the great story. We see here the preamble to the photo of Dean asleep on a table in a New York bar. And we experience for ourselves 'live' the taking of the photos of Dean with pea coat collar turned up against the cold and wet, wandering the New York streets. But the stories are not as interesting as the images; the depiction of Dean drinking removes some of the vulnerability of the bar shot; the cold CGI of Dean in the rain in Times Square murders the romanticism.
Corbijn does find some success, ironically in finding the thing his depiction of the bar photo destroys. Dean, a generation-defying, ageless icon, here reverts to being a normal human being, with anxieties, insecurities and a surprising amount of innocent naivety, hidden within (or behind) his attractive rebellion. Yes, he embodies the rebel, but his quiet spirit is more of the poet, a depiction director and star are both clearly universally sold upon.
However, there are problems even there. DeHaan's performance - pitched at a nasally whisper - is underplay in the extreme and Pattinson, pitching at a similar level, is the same thing. One or both of them might have got away with the approach, but together they form a dense vacuum of presence and interest. Pattinson in particular is getting into the habit of starring in films which promote detachment to the degree that they feel tired of themselves, as Life does for long stretches.