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Reviewed March 28th, 2002 by David Nusair


The life of legendary actor James Dean is explored in this made-for-TNT biopic, but oddly enough, the flick contains few references to the films that made him famous.

The movie tells the James Dean story in a linear fashion, starting with his childhood and progressing through his tumultuous (and short) Hollywood career until his untimely death. We see Deanís remarkably speedy journey from penniless struggling actor to world-famous movie star, but the consistent subtext is Deanís puppy-dog obsession with gaining his fatherís approval. His dad is shown to be the sort of fellow that clearly isnít cut out for fatherhood, ignoring his son in favor or whatever happens to be nearby (whether it be a newspaper or a television). So, when Dean becomes one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood and even makes a trip to his childhood home with famed director Elia Kazan, his father nonetheless dismisses him (he was expecting dinner guests, you see).

While this desperate need for approval from his father provides the film with some much needed emotion, it does tend to get a little out of hand. The film seems to be saying that Dean never achieved the happiness fame and fortune was supposed to bring until he heard his father tell him he was proud of him. And while this is a noble and even old-fashioned point-of-view, Iím not entirely sure I believe it. But weíre given no evidence to point to the contrary, so itís an assumption we have to take at face value.

But the movie is entertaining, in a movie-of-the-week sort of way. Unfortunately, for some bizarre reason, the film never dwells much on Deanís films. When the time finally comes to detail the making of Rebel without a Cause Ė a seminal film that not only immortalized Dean, but still holds up today as the ultimate teen rebellion flick Ė the movie devotes a scant few minutes of screen time to its production. The rest of the movie is concerned mostly with Deanís various relationships (with his father, his forbidden girlfriend, his friends), but curiously never explores his odd acting style. We learn that he was inspired by Marlon Brandoís ďmethodĒ of acting, but never much more than that.

As James Dean, James Franco is appropriately brooding. The rest of the cast is an eclectic bunch (Michael Moriarty as his father, Enrico Colantoni as director Kazan, etc.), but this is really Francoís show. Heís up to the challenge of portraying an iconic legend like Dean, and never resorts to mimicry. Itís just too bad the film had to be so bland and unassuming Ė the opposite of James Dean himself.

Audio: The movie is accompanied by a 5.0 DD soundtrack, and itís nothing special. This is just the sort of sound youíd expect for a movie that premiered on television. Itís crisp, clearÖbut not much else.

Video: Presented full-frame, this isnít a bad little transfer. It wonít knock your socks off, but it gets the job done.

Extras: Except for filmographies and trailers for Giant and Rebel without a Cause, nothing much.

Conclusion: James Dean presents a perfunctory look into the life of James Dean, but never really delves deep into his short life.


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