UPDATE: New reviews added at the bottom! “The slow-burn film is an absorbing study of how arresting, emotionally potent circumstances become iconic imagery.”
Life premiered today at Berlinale! We’ll post the press conference and premiere roundup soon but we did get a chance to see the first clip from the movie before the press conference. Be sure to check it out HERE.
These are some of the review highlights, rounded up and excerpted. Click the links to read the full reviews.
Anton Corbijn’s engaging, elegiac portrait of a legend in the making…Dane DeHaan’s magnetic take on James Dean…Robert Pattinson in a sly turn as Dennis Stock…It’s the peculiarly moving, even subtly queer friendship between the two men that distinguishes “Life” from standard inside-Hollywood fare, while gorgeous production values and ace star turns make it a thoroughly marketable arthouse prospect.
If any current filmmaker is qualified to reflect on the intimate complexities of capturing and crafting star quality through the aperture of a camera lens, it’s the Dutch-born Corbijn — who effectively animated his signature rock-photography aesthetic to track the construction and collapse of an icon in his first stab at showbiz biography, 2007’s Ian Curtis study “Control.” Needless to say, focusing as it does on an industry that prizes heightened glamor over gut-spilling authenticity, “Life” is a sleeker effort all around in tone and texture — shot by gifted Danish d.p. Charlotte Bruus Christensen (“The Hunt”) in minty vintage hues, each frame lit as if it would be cashmere to the touch. Four features into his directorial career, with the smeary autumnal mood of last year’s “A Most Wanted Man” still fresh in the memory, Corbijn is proving a more versatile stylist than his striking debut might have suggested.
How honest, personal and affecting is LIFE.
Perhaps Corbijn’s most assured decision was playing down the moment when Stock takes those perennial shots of Dean in Times Square. We’re anticipating it yet there’s no dramatic build-up. As with photography, the blink-or-you’ll-miss-it moment happens, then it’s gone. In less capable filmmakers’ hands, this would be the scene where everything is neatly tied up, Stock’s work complete, photos in the can.
The sets, the cinematography, the music and the atmosphere all cipher the 50’s pose, as smoking and larger-than-life LA are the standard….For Dehaan, the performance, both visually and in terms of acting is undeniably suited as he resonates Dean’s moody and unique approach, showing him as a person, not merely an icon….For Robert Pattinson, his take on iconic photographer Dennis Stock is equally as impressive as he enters the world of Hollywood from the other side of the carpet (and at bottom).
Corbijn plumbed his roots as a photographer to create a decadent strain of monochrome in his debut, Control. In Life, he is subtle but satisfying with the visual storytelling. Serene frames show a tactile recreation of ’50s America. Details from vintage motors to hand-painted shop signs to the names of the films playing in ‘CINEMASCOPE’ in the various cinemas frequented are right but not ostentatiously so. There is a seasonal coldness in the air and many scenes of men talking into the receivers of old ebony phone receivers.
As Life proceeds the pace picks up and by the third act, it is a compelling dramatisation of an artistically fascinating alliance.
The film delivers on all the tech fronts, from production design to costumes to (naturally) the pin-sharp widescreen photography, which nails 1950s Americana without needing to lazily reference Edward Hopper. Best of all is Owen Pallet’s jazz soundtrack, which nails the strange mix of austerity and excitement that made the mid-fifties such an interesting times.
Anastasio Masaro‘s production design and Gersha Phillips‘ costumes vividly evoke the mid-century style of the three distinct principal settings — Hollywood, New York and the farming town of Fairmount, Indiana, where Dean spent part of his childhood. And cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (The Hunt) energizes the widescreen canvas with dynamic framing and high-contrast, saturated colors…Composer Owen Pallett channels that spirit of cultural ferment in a score of beatnik-flavored jazz, with lots of lazy drums and smoky horns
The slow-burn film is an absorbing study of how arresting, emotionally potent circumstances become iconic imagery.
From the first scene of Anton Corbijn’s Life, DeHaan gives us very much his own Dean, and he’s immediately rather fascinating….The underrated Pattinson is playing a cold fish here, and does a credible job getting inside Dennis’s aura of shifty desperation…Thoughtfully scripted by Luke Davies, who wrote one of Heath Ledger’s last vehicles, the Australian addiction drama Candy (2006), this film understands Dean’s fame as the moment something changed – not just the birth of a new type of movie icon, but the idea of a reluctant celebrity willing to parade his vulnerabilities.
Considering we’re living vicariously through Robert Pattinson’s Dennis Stock in Anton Corbijn’s ambitious biographical drama Life, we rely on our protagonist earning the trust of Hollywood icon and star James Dean, to be granted the fortune of getting beneath the surface of his subject, to allow the audience to do so themselves. What transpires is an absorbing insight into the life of one of the industry’s mot renowned, and elusive stars.
Owen Pallett’s jazz-infused score and Corbijn’s sharp, conservative framing capture the essence of a decade in which America was shifting towards a more liberal perspective on life and the arts. DeHaan and Pattinson are also both terrific, at once elegant and charismatic, yet equally uncomfortable in the skins they inhabit.