If the real James Dean was anything at all like the James Dean portrayed in this movie by Dane DeHann, then the real Dean's career would have gone no further than his first time on film in the 1950 Pepsi commercial - if even that far! And, therefore, without a James Dean as historic fact this film would never have been made - and that would have been a good thing. Look, no one can BE Dean and it isn't a clone that is necessarily desired when films are made of the legendary actor. But Stephen McHattie, James Franco and even Casper Van Dien have all given us embodiments of some sense of the real Dean. All three actors captured something of Dean's charisma, his tortured soul, his many moods. In LIFE, DeHann gives us a Dean that seems perpetually stoned. DeHann's Dean has no charm, no danger, no moods, no sexual appeal, nada. It is a one note, wimpy performance. For those who argue that the Dean in this film is meant to suggest his character more than his look, well, why then bother to attach phony earlobes to the actor's own lobeless ears - given that the real Dean had earlobes - and pop in darker blue contact lens to approximate Dean's own darker-than-DeHann's eyes blue? Why bother with the outward if naught of the inward is captured? And that voice! In the Extra, DeHann says he listened to Dean's voice to better approximate it in his performance. That is hard-to-believe, because the imitation is so far off in every particular.
But what about the movie? Well, if you are going to make a movie with such an iconic actor as its centerpiece, you need to capture something of what made that actor iconic in the first place. All three above mentioned actors who've played Dean before would have given this film a solid center. But with DeHann, the shock of the performance never abates and the movie suffers enormously from it. Now, if Robert Pattinson - the able actor who plays photographer Dennis Stock - had been made-up to approximate Dean instead and had been given the lead role, the film would have had a much stronger center. Pattinson...can act! And even though he is playing the photographer, throughout the film I kept thinking what a much better Dean he would have than DeHann. Anyway, even though the movie was beautifully photographed and its subject - two weeks in the lives of the actor and his photographer - a very good one, apart from the terrible Dean performance, the minimalist script destroys whatever promise there may have been. Yes, this is an illiterate age where people text more than talk - and have little or nothing to say - witness the increasing amounts of one-word or few-word or totally irrelevant to the topic Amazon reviews ("Good", "Great," "It came in the mail as promised," "My Uncle Charlie will love it,"). So this sacrifice of the verbal to the visual has given us movies that are practically ALL visual (CGI driven turkeys) or movies whose scripts are more like transcriptions of textings than the real way people talk - or used to! Many modern scriptwriters have grown lazy in their historic research or simply do not have all that much to say so they leave it to the actors, the photography, the music to fill in the blanks. The written word is in danger of extinction - not just on the movie screen which not only mirrors but also inspires everyday life, but in the real world! People...are becoming zombies! And the characters in this movie are as zombies. The real Dean and his day were frantic with ideas, alive to the moment, anxious to be heard, desirous to live, emotive, volatile, exciting, and most of all ALIVE! All the things this snooze-fest film is not. LIFE...is dead.