Archive for the ‘Anton Corbijn’ Category

The Cusp of Fame

Life

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Director: Anton Corbijn

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Robert Pattinson, Joel Edgerton, Stella Schnabel, Alessandra Mastronardi, Ben Kingsley, Peter Lucas

Like Simon Curtis’ s film My Week With Marilyn, director Anton Corbijn’s handsomely made film Life offers a glimpse into a slice of iconic screen legend James Dean’s life, a couple of months before his untimely death on the 30th September 1955 as seen through the lens of acclaimed photographer Dennis Stock.

Corbijn’s films including The American and A Most Wanted Man are considerably measured in approach and give the actors a chance to inhabit their characters on screen. The casting of Dane DeHaan (The Devil’s Knot, Lawless) as the reluctant star James Dean and Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis, Twilight) as the struggling photojournalist Stock who sees in Dean a potential symbol for the rising counter-culture in the American society exemplified in the Beat Generation especially writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg who become infamous in the latter years of the 1950’s.

DeHaan who also starred as Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings, which also focused on this particular era is beautifully cast as the selfish, enigmatic and moody James Dean who is literally on the cusp of fame.

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Life, which takes place in 1955, as Dean has just starred in Nicholas Ray’s film East of Eden and is on the brink of getting the part in Rebel Without a Cause.

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DeHaan intensely inhabits the role of James Dean and Pattinson is brilliant as the struggling photographer Stock who on a whim decides to follow his itinerant subject from Los Angeles to New York and then to his home town of Marion, Indiana.

Its James Dean’s encounter with Jack Warner of Warner Brothers where he first realizes that he is a pawn in the powerful studio system. Warner is played with panache and brutality by Oscar Winner Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Sexy Beast) who even says to Dean “You belong to me now.”

DeHaan superbly shows James Dean’s reluctance at being controlled as he mysteriously leaves New York to visit his relations in Indiana, not before Stock poignantly manages to capture that iconic black and white image of James Dean, wearing a trench coat, strolling nonchalantly through Times Square New York in the rain, smoking a cigarette.

Whilst the script of Life is by no means as witty as My Week with Marilyn, causing the narrative to meander considerably in the middle act of the film, it does offer viewers a glimpse at an enigmatic superstar who after three films become such a Hollywood icon just as his life was cut short in a fatal car crash: Life of James Dean.

giant_ver3Ironically Dennis Stock’s images of James Dean were immortalized much like the star he was photographing. Audiences should look out for cameo appearances by director Julian Schnabel’s daughter Stella Schnabel as Norma and Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi as Dean’s initial love interest, actress Pier Angeli along with Joel Edgerton as John Morris.

What is clearly emphasized in Life, was James Dean’s ambition to be an actor which he was passionate about without wanting to participate in his film’s publicity, premieres and red carpet obligations that he would notoriously shy away from.

Watching Life in a 21st century, celebrity obsessed context, James Dean would never have survived had he been born half a century later, despite his immense talent and gorgeous baby-faced good looks. Life is a fascinating portrait of two men, of subject and photographer, who both at some point realize that their unique friendship would be fleeting, yet have a lasting impact on the public perception of what constitutes a screen icon.

Recommended viewing for those that enjoy languid biopics without the wit or profound resonance often associated with films about hugely famous people. By no means a masterpiece, Life is certainly fascinating viewing and affords a moody opportunity to see DeHaan and Pattinson onscreen together.

 

The Art of Surveillance

A Most Wanted Man

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 Director: Anton Corbijn

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Rainer Bock

Dutch director of The American, Anton Corbijn skilfully brings to cinematic life the spymaster John le Carre’s novel A Most Wanted Man set in the German port city of Hamburg, the site in which the 9/11 terror attacks emanated from.

Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) in one of his last onscreen performances before his untimely death in New York in 2014, plays German intelligence officer Gunther, an overweight heavy drinking, chain smoking yet patience man who engineers a web of intrigue and surveillance when a Chechen Muslim illegal immigrant arrives in Hamburg seeking asylum.

The immigrant is half Chechen and half Russian and his true reasons for arriving in Hamburg is to claim access to a private bank account held by his Russian father who stashed funds after several covert and illegal Russian/Chechen wars.

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The most wanted man, Issa is a Muslim convert, played by Russian actor Grigoriy Dobrygin, who seeks shelter with a Turkish mother and son. They in turn seek advice on his precarious existence with a human rights lawyer and refugee sympathizer Annabelle Richter played against type by Rachel McAdams.

Gunther with the help of his surveillance team including Daniel Bruhl (Rush) as Maximilian and German actress Nina Hoss as Irna Frey who manipulate Annabelle into setting up a play to gain the confidence of Issa whose sudden wealth is being held by a suave German banker Tommy Brue played by Willem Dafoe (Nymphomaniac).

The German surveillance team is interested in where the funds might go, namely to a prominent Muslim businessman Abdullah in Hamburg who is funneling cash to jihadist groups in the Middle East through a shipping company based in Cyprus.

A Most Wanted Man’s opening scene focuses on the murky swirling waters of the river Elbe running through the second largest port in Europe after Rotterdam, a fitting motif for the tricky surveillance and bureaucracy involved in the gathering of intelligence on suspected terrorists post 9/11. This is an intricate geopolitical affair, with allegiances and deception as part of the cold business of espionage in the tradition of Zero Dark Thirty and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Into the play comes the seemingly sympathetic CIA officer, Martha Sullivan played by Robin Wright, last seen in the excellent series House of Cards. As Gunther increasingly manipulates both Issa and Annabelle to his own advantage without wanting a full scale extradition, the tension and strain becomes almost unbearable.

This is a well plotted gritty thriller without the flashy car chases or violent fight sequences synonymous with The Bourne Trilogy. Director Corbijn opts for a more sedated, yet carefully paced spy narrative, slow moving in parts, rather emphasizing the mental and emotional strain on all those involved especially Gunther, with his unraveling coming to a head at the film’s rather poignant unexpected conclusion.

At just over two hours, A Most Wanted Man could have been edited in parts, but is nevertheless a fascinating study of the excruciating art of surveillance. Recommended for cinema goers who enjoy well-plotted intelligent spy thrillers without the glamour or excitement of a Bond film.

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