You may already know more about this film than you realise. Have you ever seen that iconic photo of James Dean walking in the rain in Times Square? Well, the picture was taken by a man named Dennis Stock, and the story of it, and his friendship with the soon-to-be-huge star, is touchingly told in Life.

Stock (Pattinson) is eking out a living photographing Hollywood's red carpet elite when he meets Dean (DeHaan) at a party. There is an instant rapport between them and Dean invites Stock to a preview of his new film, East of Eden, the following day.

After the screening, Stock is convinced he's just seen the actor of the future - now to persuade his paymasters at photo agency Magnum - and Dean himself - that a pictorial essay for Life magazine is a brilliant way of introducing the public to a prodigious talent.

Easier said than done. Magnum don't want to stump up the cash for a 'nobody', while Dean is flaky and fearful of becoming swallowed up in the hype machine. Risk is called for, and so Stock follows him to New York as Dean kicks his heels waiting to find out if he's got the lead role in Rebel without a Cause.

Given that one of Life's central messages is to seize the opportunities that are presented to you, it's ironic that director Corbijn initially didn't want to sign up for the project because he had already done a biopic with his 2007 study of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, Control. Thankfully he saw sense, and while this character study continues the outsider theme of Control and Corbijn's other films The American and A Most Wanted Man, Life's depiction of two strays bringing out the best in each other makes it the Dutchman's most uplifting work to date. But don't go expecting saccharine sequences - dysfunctional relationships, the fear of failure, the ruthlessness of star makers and the pressure to try to make ends meet are all part of the experience. 

The casting is excellent, with Pattinson continuing the great work of last year's The Rover and DeHaan avoiding the caricature pitfall that comes with the territory of portraying Dean. The actors have some great moments together, and the era is so lovingly and beautifully recreated by Corbijn and his team that your time with the two men will probably feel all too short.  

Dean was killed in a car crash just six months after he appeared in that issue of Life - you'll be determined to make even more of your own after watching this.

Harry Guerin