Another Shot at James Dean Sixty Years Later

DATELINE:  James Dean as Backseat Driver

LIFE is unfair. Not life in general, but the 1950s magazine. It is the title of the latest attempt to depict James Dean, based on a couple of icon photos.

When you have a couple of offbeat artists like James Dean and Dennis Stock, played by Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson, it’s hard to tell where life begins and the movie ends.

If you were expected the fictionalized tale of Dennis Stock’s friendship with Jimmy Dean, you will be about as blindsided as Jack Warner’s friendship with James Dean. Warner is truly unlikeable in this movie—and so Ben Kingsley shines here.

There is no friendship between the photographer and the movie star. Each had mercenary and power trip reasons to team up for a few pictures at the Indiana farm and in the noir of Times Square.

The film is a calculated slice of 1950s Americana, and for that reason it is not likely to appeal to people interested in sex scandals (the latest involve Dean and Brando). This movie is surprisingly heterosexual in its chasteness.

It likely is not a movie to win devotees and repeat viewers. It is well done, but lacks a certain element to make it special as art. Depicting two alienated and calculating artists (Dean and Stock) does not make them likeable.

Director Anton Corbijn provides us with verisimilitude in a manner of speaking. DeHaan does not look much like Dean, being too soft and too doughy. Dean was wiry, but DeHaan has caught the slouching and mumbling better than anyone else, except Dean himself.

Pattinson again gives himself a thankless role as an ambitious man. But the two actors might as well be in separate movies. Therein is the the secret of the movie.  Dean was always in his own world, and so is this film. Yes, we recommend this for being unlike all the other Dean biographical movies.