I wanted to like "At Eternity's Gate," in which William Dafoe portrays Vincent Van Gogh.
Alas, director Julian Schnabel's moody 2018 film was a long slog, especially the many sequences showing Van Gogh strolling through woods and meadows as sad, sad music plays.
Dafoe tries his best with Van Gogh's earnest mystical dialogues, but he sounds like a college student who'd just discovered the wonders of art.
While Van Gogh was pretty ravaged at his death at age 37, Dafoe appears too old for the part. His enactments of Van Gogh's mental breakdowns don't illicit sympathy but the conclusion that Van Gogh was pretty creepy, and that the good folks in Arles couldn't be blamed for packing him off to an asylum.
The relationship between Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, played with flair by Oscar Issac, gives a few sparks without quite igniting. The famous gruesome incident in which Van Gogh slices off his ear after Gauguin tells him he's leaving Arles somehow lacks drama. I kept thinking what Quentin Tarantino would have done.
A dialogue between Van Gogh and a priest expressively played by Mads Mikkelsen brings one of the few moments of dramatic intensity.
Rupert Friend's performance as Vincent's loyal brother Theo is more compelling than Dafoe's. My empathy spiked whenever Friend entered the film.
Risking controversy, the film follows the theory that Van Gogh didn't commit suicide by shooting himself with a pistol. The film shows Van Gogh being fatally wounded by two teenaged boys playing cowboy. The murder theory claims that Van Gogh in his last hours never mentioned the boys.
Dafoe is an inventive actor, but he was more convincing playing the manager of a rundown Florida hotel, for which he received an Oscar nomination the year before. He's known for taking performance risks. His Van Gogh, however, hews too closely to the common perception of the artist as a genius misunderstood in his time.