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 Place Beyond the Pines” is actually three stories bonded by blood and blood shed.
In the opening story Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a carnival sideshow motorcycle daredevil, who discovers he has a son from a one-night stand. He wants to take responsibility but the child’s mother Romina (Eva Mendes) has moved on. In a desperate attempt to make money Luke teams with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to stage a daring series of bank robberies. “Not since Hall and Oates has there been such a team,” Luke jokes.
He’s desperate and desperate people do unpredictable things which puts him in the way of (star of story number two) rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), setting up a situation that will change both their lives and see the sins of the fathers affect their children’s lives as well (that’s story three).
“The Place Beyond the Pines” is a sprawling movie. At almost two-and-a-half hours it takes its time laying out the multi-generational tale. Director and co-writer Derek (“Blue Valentine”) Cianfrance has created a character study disguised as a crime drama in which two flawed men—Luke and Avery—act as mirror images of one another. One allows himself to be brought into corruption, another fights against it. In the end both pay a price for their actions.
Ripe with slow-paced tension the movie carefully details how one chance encounter can send ripples throughout a person’s life, with reverberations felt by all those around. Each character’s existence is interconnected to a degree, and while the set-up is a predictable crossing of the paths, the movie doesn’t paint by numbers.
There are surprises along the way—I’ve tried to be careful in my synopsis not to give away any spoilers—but it is the performances that sell the material.
Gosling is in full-blown brooding mode—like Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen had a baby—but brings enough charm to Luke to engender sympathy from the audience even as he is seduced by the dark side of life.
Bradley Cooper takes another few baby steps away from the role that made him famous, Phil the philandering dentist of the “Hangover” movies. He hands in a performance that becomes richer as the story becomes darker and more complex.
The strongest performances, however, belong to two supporting characters. As Robin, the mechanic who leads Luke down the wrong path, Ben Mendelsohn is memorable. Delivering lines like, “I never liked guns, they’re vulgar,” in a soft country twang he makes the most of his few scenes.
We meet Dane DeHaan’s character Jason in the final third of the film and his portrayal of a teenager searching for some way to full the void in his life—it would be too much of a spoiler to explain why—is heartfelt and heartbreaking.
“The Place Behind the Pines” is thematically rich with good performances and any movie that showcases Ray Liotta in corrupt cop mode is OK by me.