If you’re reading this and not some rogue, jump-the-gun review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” it means you and I are friends forever. This is the day — 24 hours before the opening of the latest chapter in the “Star Wars” franchise — when other movies currently screening in theaters are destined to be ignored altogether.
I know someone who hasn’t been outside in six months and yet he is heading out the door as I write so he can get in line for the Tokyo premiere of “The Force Awakens,” which involves a 1½-hour train ride preceded by a 20-minute trek to the station. Such is the power of the Force.
And as much as I understand all the hype, I feel like it’s my solemn duty to inform the moviegoing public of other films that are deserving of our undivided attention. Exhibit A: “Life,” which is directed by Anton Corbijn (“Control”) and stars Robert Pattinson, who has become a force to be reckoned with in his own right since appearing in the “Twilight” series not so long ago.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||111 mins|
In “Life,” Pattinson plays real-life Magnum photographer Dennis Stock, who met James Dean a few months before the actor’s death (in a car accident when the star was just 24 years old).
Stock’s photo of Dean — walking in Times Square with his shoulders hunched and a cigarette in his mouth — was published in Life and remains one of the most iconic images of both the star and mid-20th-century America.
When Stock first encounters Dean (Dane DeHaan, showing all his acting chops in a superb portrayal), the young actor had just finished working on “Rebel Without a Cause,” a landmark film in the actor’s career that would eventually be released after his death.
Stock was only a few years older than Dean at the time but had already been through a divorce and was struggling to make ends meet by photographing Hollywood celebrities for dreary public-relations stills.
Stock was poor and itching for fame, while Dean was poor but uninterested in the limelight. It was this apparent lack of ambition and raw defiance that gave Dean his particular aura (later perfected by Marlon Brando).
Stock saw a wild-child innocence in Dean that he himself had lost. He recognized the unpolished brilliance of Dean’s personality and simply had to capture it on his camera before anyone else. More urgently, Dean could transform into a fully fledged celebrity any day and that would ruin everything.
The dynamic between the photographer and the star is fluid and tricky, but DeHann and Pattinson pin it down delicately, like catching a butterfly. For the brief time they were together, they were more than artist and muse — there are signs of an enduring friendship and Dean seems to have a deep understanding of Stock and what he was trying to capture on the lens.
For Stock’s part, he was often confused by Dean’s shyness and his disdain of the Hollywood celebrity lifestyle. He needed Dean to retain his defiant self but, on the other hand, he also needed a spark of genuine glamour to convince his editor at Life (Joel Edgerton) that Dean was actually something worth pursuing.
There’s very little portrayal of emotion in “Life” — much to Corbjn and the main cast’s credit. It could have been crammed with dialogue and incident but, instead, there’s lots of silence and understated subtlety.
Dean, especially, comes off as a mumbling, underfed dockworker and it took Stock gazing at him from the other side of the lens to draw out that look, that moment and the purity “that can’t be faked.”
Although few people watch James Dean movies such as “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Giants” and “East of Eden” anymore, “Life” could very well have a new generation of moviegoers rushing to rent them.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.