Thursday, June 12, 2008

Movie Review: "I'm Not There"

Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Directed by Todd Haynes

Official Web site

No one can ever deny the enigmatic nature of Bob Dylan. He is perhaps the most perplexing, hard to understand (in a literal and figurative sense) presence to ever come along in music history. That might help explain a little bit more about writer-director Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” a film that is much more interested in capturing the essence of Dylan, rather than a biographical look at the man himself.

Featuring six actors cast as Dylan (or at least some approximation of him) is a bold decision – and not an altogether successful one. That’s not to say there isn’t good acting on display here; it just makes for a disjointed narrative. That, and the movie’s lengthy running time can make the mind wander a bit on occasion.

In the film, Dylan’s six incarnations are the following: a young African-American boy (Marcus Carl Franklin) claiming to be Woody Guthrie; Robbie (Heath Ledger), who meets a woman on a Hollywood film, marries her and becomes a parent; Jack, a Greenwich Village folk singer (Christian Bale); Jude (Cate Blanchett), a rebellious presence who alienates fans by switching from acoustic to electric guitar; as a young man (Ben Whishaw) seemingly being interrogated about his career; and as an actor (Richard Gere) appearing in a Western about Billy the Kid.

Some of the sequences work better than others, with Gere’s portion of the film a general bore. It would have been better served to have been excised. Faring best is Blanchett, who, in an Oscar-nominated turn, makes you forget you’re watching a woman portray a man.

That said, none of the actors are doing a straight out impersonation of Dylan (Blanchett’s role would likely be the closest), as that would have probably moved the film closer to a near parody of the singer-songwriter. Clearly, Haynes (who has been silent since 2002’s great “Far From Heaven”) doesn’t have designs on a typical bio-pic such as recent hits “Ray” or “Walk the Line.” For that matter, it’s difficult to imagine Dylan ever being satisfied with someone attempting to do so.

But he at least seemed pleased with Haynes’ take on the film, giving approval to use his own music and have the actors also do their own interpretations of some of it.

Admittedly not counting myself as much of a Dylan fan, there’s probably a fair amount of semi-biographical information here that I missed, which might have diminished my enjoyment of the movie. But love him, hate him or something in between, “I’m Not There” is still a fairly entertaining, albeit a little scattershot examination of the elusive nature of an artist (born Robert Allen Zimmerman, by the way) who refuses to fit into any easy-to-define category.

Grade: B-
(Rated R for language, some sexuality and nudity.)

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