Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Anton Corbijn
Stars: Dane DeHaan, Robert Pattinson, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley, Alessandro Mastronardi.
In 1955, photographer Robert Stock took that iconic photograph of actor James Dean strolling through the rain in Times Square. It was a photograph that immortalised the young star and created a timeless image of the actor’s brooding presence and rebellious nature. This Australian-Canadian co-production, written by Australian novelist Luke Davies (Candy, etc) tells the story behind that iconic photograph and the brief, unusual and uneasy friendship that developed between the tragic Dean and the ambitious Stock.
In 1955 the rising young star James Dean (played here by Dane DeHaan) had just completed a major role in Elia Kazan’s film East Of Eden, and his star was on the rise in Hollywood. He was being considered for the lead role in Rebel Without A Cause, and studio head Jack Warner had placed him on a contract. Photo agency editor John Morris (Joel Edgerton) reluctantly assigned Stock (Twilight’s Robert Pattinson) to do a photo essay on the enigmatic rising young star for LIFE magazine. But Dean was something of a reluctant star, uncomfortable with the spotlight and the sudden media interest in him.
Stock persisted, and eventually Dean invited him to accompany him back home to the family farm in Indiana. There Dean appeared more relaxed, and Stock was able to capture some more intimate and revealing shots. Five months after those photos were taken, the 24-year-old Dean was dead, tragically killed in a car crash just as his career was taking off.
The portrait of Dean here is of a rather shy and rather private man, uncomfortable with the spotlight. Both Dean and Stock are dealing with some personal issues, and this somehow allows the two to forge a brief connection. The uneasy friendship between the two men and rising young artists forms the crux of this low key and slow moving drama.
The life of a troubled star is familiar territory for director Anton Corbijn, whose film Control was a biopic of Joy Division’s late frontman Ian Curtis. Corbijn is a former photographer himself, and his background shows in the deliberate composition of many shots here and the framing of characters to great visual effect. He pays attention to the 50s period detail, giving the film an authentic feel. But the film lacks a clear focus and Corbijn’s lack of intensity and drama means that the film will lack broad appeal outside the art house circuit. And he presents Stock’s iconic and atmospheric black and white photographs of Dean during the end credit roll.
DeHaan (from Spiderman, The Place Beyond The Pines, etc) is one of the best young actors of his generation, and he steps into the shoes of one of his acting idols. But while doesn’t really physically resemble the actor, he captures his brooding quality, his shyness and his self-effacing nature that make for a complex character. Pattinson proves that, outside the bland tween vampire series that made his reputation, he is quite a good and subtle actor, bringing a soulful quality to his performance as the insecure and ambitious Stock. Ben Kingsley makes the most of his few scenes as a blustering and profane Jack Warner, the powerful studio head who tried to control his wayward star and grew frustrated by his casual attitude towards the usual Hollywood publicity machine.
Film buffs may be a little disappointed that the film doesn’t delve more deeply into Dean’s persona or recreate famous scenes from his three key films, or go too deeply into the Hollywood lore of that period.