When Dane DeHaan was studying acting at UNC School of the Arts he had a poster of James Dean on his dorm wall.
DeHaan graduated in 2008 and has gone on to star in the HBO series In Treatment, and films like Chronicle, The Place Beyond the Pines, Kill Your Darlings and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but one thing hasn’t changed.
“The poster is still on my wall,” he says on the line from his home. “I’m looking at it right now.”
In new film Life the twenty-nine-year-old actor plays Dean in 1955, just months away from the release of East of Eden. After a chance meeting a photographer played by Robert Pattinson becomes convinced the actor is the perfect subject. The two have an undeniable bond but Dean is hesitant, leery of exposing himself to the publicity machine.
DeHaan, who gained twenty-five pounds to play the screen icon, calls Dean one of his favourite actors.
“I was learning about acting and my acting teacher told us to go home and watch Marlon Brando and James Dean movies. I started watching them and he was just amazing. It was amazing to watch someone start the revolution of the kind of acting that most people do today but do it in such a beautiful way.
“It’s so exciting to watch those movies and see James Dean existing in this world with all these other over-the-top actors and just take them to school. The contrast was so jarring. Now you see a movie and there are obviously people who are better than others, but generally they’re trying to do the same kind of acting. In those movies that’s not really happening.”
DeHaan, who will soon be seen playing another real life character, Karl Rove in Young Americans, says “people think they know a lot about Dean but not many people really know much about him at all,” and hope Life will change that.
“Ultimately that was one of the reasons I took it on,” he says. “I realized that there are a lot of young people who don’t know who James Dean is, and that’s a sad fact. I would hope you would watch his movies first and then watch our movie or watch our movie and then watch his. I hope it opens a door for a lot of people to rediscover him not just as a persona but as an amazing talent.”
JAMES DEAN SIDEBAR:
Dane DeHaan joins a long list of people who have played Dean since the icon’s death in 1955
James Franco became a star, and won a Golden Globe, playing the rebellious actor in the TV biopic James Dean. Franco got so into character he went from non-smoker to a two-pack-a-day habit — in real life Dean smoked more than two packs of unfiltered Chesterfields a day — and learned to ride a motorcycle.
In 1976, Stephen McHattie won praise playing Dean in the TV movie James Dean written by William Bast, Dean’s best friend and roommate.
Also interesting is the video installation piece Rebel which features a female James Dean in the form of performer Nina Ljeti, and an Animaniacs episode featuring Slappy Squirrel giving Dean a class in method acting.
The story of “Life,” the new Robert Pattinson movie, begins with an assignment for LIFE magazine but the film isn’t about LIFE, it’s about the shared life of two very different men.
“Life” is told through the lens of Dennis Stock, a struggling photographer played by Pattinson. He’s a New Yorker slumming it in Los Angeles red carpets with dreams of returning to the Big Apple to do more important work.
James Dean (Dane DeHaan) is on the cusp of stardom, just months away from the release of “East of Eden.” After a chance meeting with Dean the photographer is convinced the actor is the perfect subject. The two have an undeniable bond but Dean is hesitant, leery of exposing himself to the publicity machine. “I lose myself in my roles,” he says. “I don’t want to lose myself in all this other stuff.”
The actor reluctantly agrees to allow Stock to photograph him for LIFE in the days leading up to the New York premier of “East of Eden.” When Stock’s early attempts to capture the actor’s “purity and awkwardness” don’t yield anything usable the two leave for Dean’s Indiana hometown. The resulting photos, coupled with a throwaway shot taken in Times Square, become a document of Dean’s last few moments of real life before he was overwhelmed by fame.
“Life” is a deliberate, thoughtful movie that details the heady days just before stardom consumed Dean. The story is uneventful, this is really a character study about two young men—in real life Stock was 26, Dean 23 years old—who find a way to define their relationship outside the parameters of photographer and subject. It’s about building trust, it’s about the connection between the press and the stars they cover and it’s about the bond between the photographer and the photographed. “Photography is a good way of saying, ‘I’ve been here, you’ve been here,’ says Stock.
It’s no surprise that “Life” was directed by Anton Corbijn, a photog-tiurned-filmmaker best known for taking iconic pictures of rock bands like U2 and Joy Division. He deeply understands the give-and-take necessary to capture interesting images and his experience bleeds into “Life’s” story.
It’s an interesting portrait of an exciting time. It’s too bad then, that there isn’t more to it. When Stock isn’t peering through his viewfinder the movie tends to fall flat.
DeHaan’s portrayal of Dean suggests the actor may have been an insufferable prat, self-absorbed and yet hiding behind a shroud of cigarette smoke. He mumbles his way through the first half of the film and doesn’t really transcend caricature until the story moves to his Indiana hometown. Its there Dean becomes a person and DeHaan seems to let go of the shackles of playing a legend. It is there the script allows him to be a person and not “the symbol of a new movement.” It is there we begin to understand why Dean is in no rush to let the public get to know him. Before that he is a ready-made rebel and not a particularly interesting one.
Pattinson continues his streak of taking on challenging roles that distance him from the heartthrob status that marked his “Twilight” years. As Stock he takes a backseat to DeHaan’s Dean, but makes a impression with a much less showier role.
In the end “Life” isn’t so much about Stock or Dean but about those moments captured on film that become legend.
“A Most Wanted Man” is one of the trio of movies Philip Seymour Hoffman had in the can when he passed away last February. The spy thriller, based on a novel by John le Carré, is his final leading role and it is difficult to watch the film without a sense of dark foreboding.
One throwaway moment that has more resonance now takes place in a bar. Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) offers Annabel (Rachel McAdams) a cigarette.
“It’s OK,” she says. “I’ve given up.”
“Good luck with that,” he replies with the sardonic tone of someone who has tried and failed to let go of their vices. Blink and you’ll miss it, but taken in context his reaction is chilling, as is CIA agent Martha Sullivan’s (Robin Wright) line, “Even good men have a little bit of bad in them… and that little bit could kill you.”
Hindsight is twenty-twenty, of course, but these references to addiction and mortality, no matter how subtle, add pathos to an already poignant performance.
Hoffman plays Bachman, the head an anti-terrorism unit working in Hamburg, Germany. “Not many people know about it,” he says, “even less like it.” He works deep undercover with a small team, but this is no high flying spy style adventure. Instead, it’s a spy story about money transfers, private bankers (Willem Dafoe), a human-rights attorney (who Günther “a social worker for terrorists,” played by McAdams), a respected Muslim academic and philanthropist (Homayoun Ershadi), and Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee who might be worth $10 million. As he follows the money Bachman must untangle the web of intrigue in just 72 hours or the German police will upend his plans.
Looking like an unmade bed, Hoffman plays Günther as a hard drinking, chain smoking, heavy-breathing anti-James Bond. His one action scene involves walking across a bar ton punch someone in the face. The thrills here come from his methodical piecing together of the clues and his manipulation of the personalities involved. It’s a terrific performance in which you can feel the weight of the world in every decision he makes, every step he takes. It’s just a shame that the movie seems to value the minutiae over its characters.
Hoffman shines, but others aren’t given the opportunity. Wright has a handful of scenes but is primarily a plot point and not a rounded character. Dobrygin succeeds in looking mournful and Dafoe, while believable as a shady banker, isn’t given enough to do. Only McAdams as the idealistic but conflicted lawyer and the city of Hamburg—whose suitably seedy underbelly is as well developed a character as is on display here—keeps up with Hoffman.
“A Most Wanted Man” features a measured but intense performance from Hoffman, but the film itself isn’t as interesting as he is.
George Clooney likes to flip flop between commercial fare like “Oceans Eleven” and edgier, more artistically satisfying work like “The Good German.” I suppose the interesting pay cheques from the less interesting movies are balanced by the artistic satisfaction he gets from the artier films. His new film, “The American,” is firmly in artistic satisfaction category… except that it is unlikely to truly satisfy an audience.
Clooney is in anti-hero mode, playing a gun doctor, a man who makes specialized weapons for assassins. Holed up in a small Italian town he’s hiding from Swedish hit men as he builds a gun for a mysterious killer. He’s a loner by nature and necessity but a spiritual crisis and his weakness for women are giving him second thoughts about his life.
“The American” isn’t the usual kind of assassin movie. This isn’t like the 1995 Sylvester Stallone / Antonio Banderas cheesefest “Assassins”—Stallone hid a gun in arm cast!—or the heart pumpingly tense “Day of the Jackal.” No, this is a sleek and introspective Euro flavored thriller. Actually thriller is too strong a word. This is one long slow burn. To suggest that “The American” has a slow build, story wise, is an understatement along the lines of saying that Justin Bieber has pretty hair. Simple words like “slow build” and “pretty” don’t do it justice.
This is a longish, leisurely paced look at the isolated life of someone who trades in death for a living. It’s more about the character than the action, and while Clooney hands in a controlled performance, for the movie to really work you have to care about the main character, but even in Clooney’s ultra charismatic hands the ruthless, troubled man is not likeable. The film’s cold, detached style—for instance director Anton Corbijn uses lots of landscape and wide shots to accentuate Clooney’s isolation—may have something to do with us never warming to the situation or the characters, but I think it has more to do with the movie’s lack of momentum.
The movie plods along, and when there is an action scene, which isn’t very often, they aren’t nearly as breathless as they should be. Corbijn, who hit a home run with his last film, the Joy Division biopic “Control,” has made a stylish movie—great attention has been paid to the look of every frame—the problem is, often there is nothing happening in the frame. It’s a movie about introspection, and so the choice not to include the usual assassin movie chase scenes etc was possibly the right one, but the pay off isn’t big enough to justify the running time.
“The American” is a beautiful movie to look at, but like a lovely vase, it is empty inside.