I'm Not There, the anti-biography biopic of Bob Dylan is a multi-layered, fevered dream kalidescopic film that is at once arty and personal and epic in scope. Directed by Todd Haynes, one of the most fearless, innovative and completely original directors working today sets his film about the many persona and moods of Dylan-- he's obsessed and it's a thrilling thing of beauty to watch this, even for a me, a person who knows very little about the world according to Dylan. Played by six different actors, all of whom are capturing a different mood, a different piece of the puzzle of one of the most enigmatic, divisive and thoroughly incandescent artists in popular American culture. What makes this a thrilling motion picture, is that every once of this film is so embroiled in passion, and even parts that confounded me were still viscerally alive-- that as I scratched my head, I was still immersed in it, seduced by the Dylan on the soundtrack, and the technical skill of Haynes' accomplishment.
As a note, Bob Dylan (besides his voice) is never mentioned on screen-- each of the six actors play different characters, all apart of the Dylan style of redefining. He is at first portrayed by Marcus Carl Franklin, an 11-year-old songwriter named Woody Guthrie riding the rails in a vintage suit and a Southern drawl. Franklin is very charming in this performance that I gather is supposed to an impression of Dylan's need for trying out new personalities, even at such an early age. In a representation of his folk leaning early Greenwich Village days, Christian Bale takes the helm as Jack Rollins. Bale ably looks the part of a beatnik singer, hard tempered and soulful-- he comes back too, as Pastor John as a sort of antithesis to Dylan's born again sensibilities. Heath Ledger, playing a Brando-like actor Robbie Clark, who plays Rollins in a movie entitled Grain of Sand, are you with me?
Playing the man in his most pop-culture readiness in Cate Blanchett, who nails the look, the accent and the stature of a musician whose power has reached mainstream and now suffers the backlash of possibly losing ones sense of self. Blanchett is pitch perfect, and it's obvious why she's getting the best in show honors here-- Haynes (along with co-writer Oren Moverman) gave her the most iconic part of his life to cover-- her scenes have a zeal and a sense of fun that carry throughout the movie. Ben Whishaw plays Dylan as a series of interview questions throughout the movie, commenting about the basis and ideals of his music. And finally Richard Gere, in the one place where the film maybe gets a bit too esoteric for it's own good plays Dylan as Billy the Kid, chronicling his outlaw, loner phase. It's beautifully filmed, but a too arch and slow in comparison to the rest of the film.
What makes I'm Not There so incredible to watch as a movie lover is not just Haynes honest and reverent approach to his subject, but the way he injests every bit of his auteur power to represent his life, which I believe is necessary to properly get to pins and needles of a man like Bob Dylan. An ordinary biopic would probably work well, but there has to be a sense of mystery and grandiosity when conquering a subject as complex as this. Haynes artistry is startling, jolting and bursting with energy. And yet even in I'm Not There's trippy acidic universe, it seems authentic to the burstling scene of the 1960s, while artfully referencing classic films at the same-- I've read Haynes say that Fellini was a big influence here.
As much as I'm sure some will hate this film, just because it's so non-linear, and so unique, I don't really have an great argument for them. I felt connected with this film on some primal level that I don't think I can really articulate-- it's a great mood piece, and to me few moments have brought as a much pleasure in a film as when Blanchett along with David Cross (playing Allen Ginsburg) are in front a statue of Jesus, shouting, "Play your early stuff!" It's beautiful. If nothing else look for the cameos by Julianne Moore (as a version of Joan Boaz), Michelle Williams (an Edie Sedgewick clone, giving Sienna Miller's Factory Girl a run for money in two brief scenes,) Bruce Greenwood as a reporter who tries to unglue Blanchett, and most effectively, Charlotte Gainsbourgh as a composite of Dylan's many loves. As is Safe and Far From Heaven, Haynes has made a film of unparallel power and control, and has the balls to make this crazy, out of this world, trippy film work. A-