Once, it was every actor’s dream to play Hamlet. Now it seems the goal is to play Vincent van Gogh. For most of us the iconic portrayal is that of Kirk Douglas in Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 “Lust For Life,” with Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin.

Since then, a long list of film actors have bared Vincent’s soul and stumbled through the “ear moment.”

We wonder who will be next? Woody Allen? Meryl Streep? One unusual piece was interesting enough — 2017’s “Loving Vincent.”

The latest is Willem Dafoe in Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” with all the action taking place in the last year when he lived in the south of France in Arles and Auvers Sur Oise and where he dashed off more than 80 of his stunning canvases.

Director Schnabel’s (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) work here is beautifully done and gorgeously photographed.

But except for the dazzling work of Dafoe and a handful of equally amazing actors, it quickly slows down to a gorgeous crawl.

For the first half hour, we’re taken along on a kind of van Gogh cruise line with its endless pastoral scenes: blowing tall grasses, starry skies, sunrises and sunsets, shots of sunflowers in bloom and in death — a bit tiresome.

Too much of it in the early scenes is a long travelogue of the countryside with the haunted Vincent walking, running, climbing rocks, staring into space, smiling as if he’s hearing someone’s voice making a joke.

That aside, “Eternity” has things going for it that make it worthwhile.

Somewhere in the middle, Schnabel brings in Vincent’s life players such as Oscar Issac, who gives us a low-key, ambitious Gauguin. It’s hard to make the egoistical and bombastic Gauguin, but Issac does.

There is his adoring brother Theo, who kept him in pocket money most of his life (an unrecognizable and impressive Rupert Friend, of “Homeland” and “The Death of Stalin.”)

The great French actor Mathieu Amalric portrays Dr. Gachet, whose portrait Vincent dashed off in less than an hour and which gathers millions in the art world today.

Mads Mikkelsen, who plays (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) the priest in the madhouse where after the “ear incident” Vincent is housed, simply sits and listens to the artist and almost steals the scene. That’s acting.

It’s regrettable, I suppose, and probably unfair, that most older viewers’ film experience with van Gogh is of Vincente Minnelli’s “Lust For Life,” which was dominated by the over-the-top performances of major macho movie stars Quinn and Douglas, both of whom blew the screen apart with big alpha male renderings.

While Douglas in “Lust” gave us his signature snarling, drooling mad Viking portrayal of van Gogh, Dafoe, always an “inner” actor, approaches the haunted artist with whispers of madness, melancholy sighs and a great deal more tenderness.

Schnabel, a renowned painter himself and larger than life New York character, also wrote the script with Jean-Claude Carriére and Louise Kugelberg.

Cinematographer Benoît Delhomme (“The Theory of Everything,” “Lawless”) is second to none when it comes to landscapes, but I suspect it was Schnabel who ordered all of those extreme closeups.

“At Eternity’s Gate” offers nothing new about the ballad of Vincent van Gogh but to remind us that Willem Dafoe’s work as one of our finest actors both stage and screen, is worth putting up with any number of fields of unbleached waving grass.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and film actor.

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