The photo, taken in 1955, shows James Dean, cigarette in his mouth, head tilted towards the ground, the billboards of Times Square in the background, dark clouds overhead, made the cover of Life Magazine. It also made Stock's career.
So 'Life' the movie is all about that photograph, and the events leading up to, and after, that photograph was taken. It's also a buddy movie: one man on the cusp of celebrity, another man trying to capture him while struggling make it as a photographer and to also spend time with his young son, with an un-cooperative ex-wife. Stock (Robert Pattison) is tasked with an assignment: to do a photo essay on an unknown actor. So he's introduced to James Dean (Dane DeHaan) at a party, where he's also introduced to a young Natalie Wood (Lauren Gallagher). Dean in on the cusp of fame - his first film - East of Eden - was yet to be released. So Dean agrees to have Stock follow him around to get some shots. The first are rejected by his editor - who wants to see hazy shots of an unknown actor boozing it up in a club with Eartha Kitt (Kelly McCreary)? Stock thinks about taking another job, this one in Japan, but he decides to stay in New York and gets back together again with Dean, and on the spur of the moment that famous Times Square photograph is taken. Not to end there, 'Life' takes us with Dean and Stock to Dean's hometown in Indiana. There is where Dean feels most at home, and comfortable; with family, aunt and uncle and Grandma and nephew (his mother died when he was nine and his father sent him to Indiana to live with them). More famous photographs are taken there; Dean with his nephew, Dean on the farm, Dean in the kitchen; these photos would become part of the Life Magazine photo essay. And that's the movie.
As you can second guess, there's not much of a story to build on. 'Life' is not only about the photographs, it's also about the relationship between these two men and especially the trust Stock builds with Dean. But 'Life' is boring, with stale dialogue, and with acting that is quite lifeless. Pattison is fine as Stock, but DeHaan, even though he has hair that looks identical to Dean's, just doesn't bring the right energy and sparkle that we can presume Dean had. Ben Kingsley, however, is excellent as Jack Warner - the man who guided Dean's career. And while the period details (clothes, cars, hairstyles) are fine, it's the story that is not a very exciting one and is not enough to warrant a 110-minute film. Director Anton Corbijn just doesn't bring any 'Life' to this movie.
'Life' is now out in UK cinemas.