Daliland review | A muddled tale of a great artist

Daliland review
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Ezra Miller and Ben Kingsley play iconic artist Salvador Dalí at different times in his life. Here’s our Daliland review.

When you have a larger than life character, especially if they’re based on a real person, you better make sure your film about them lives up to that.

Unfortunately, Mary Harron’s Daliland, about famed surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, fails to capture its subject authentically.

Ezra Miller (briefly) stars as a younger version of Dalí while Sir Ben Kingsley portrays him later in his life. Dalí is a restless soul and a party animal who is more concerned about his nightly parties than his work. His wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa) tries to push him into creating more, painting more so the couple can maintain their expensive lifestyle.

Christopher Briney’s young assistant James slowly works his way into the great artist’s inner circle, but is hopelessly unprepared for the journey he is about to embark on as Salvador Dalí’s assistant.

Christopher Briney in Daliland

Credit: Icon Film

If that plot description feels a little vague to you, it’s because it is. While Daliland certainly has a plot, its hook simply isn’t that interesting. It’s a classical, trite story of a young man looking to work with his idol and that idol turning out to be a major disappointment. Harron’s film does occasionally, superficially explore more compelling ideas, such as aging, but the film never fully engages with these.

Kingsley is, unsurprisingly, the best thing about the film. He creates a fascinating portrait of a complicated, difficult man and artist, but it’s a shame the film around him never matches the quality of his performance. Sukowa is also a delight, but it’s a terribly underwritten part.

Gaia is very much the genius woman behind the celebrated man, the scheming wife to her eccentric, but ultimately dumb husband. Their marriage is more of a partnership than it is a romantic affair. The film is much more compelling when it focuses on Gaia and Dali’s relationship.

What’s perhaps most disappointing about Daliland is all the talent behind the camera failing to do anything interesting with the material. Harron, who also helmed American Psycho, is certainly capable of making something piercingly memorable, but none of the qualities that made American Psycho a cult classic are present here.

Dali was a celebrated painter, who produced the most weird and wonderful paintings, so why is this biopic so formulaic and lacking in imagination? Marcel Zyskind’s cinematography is disappointingly average and uninspired. Shame, because Dali’s paintings are colourful, visual marvels.

Ultimately, Daliland is far too boring. Briney lacks chemistry with his castmates and the story feels too familiar. There is a great biopic somewhere in Daliland, but Harron fails to find the real story underneath Dali’s peacock-like personality. The film mimics rather than emulates and despite occasional moments of brilliance, it completely fumbles the bag, so to speak.

Daliland is in cinemas 13 October.

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