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Review: I'm Not There

I'm Not There
11.28.2007
9 10

Plot: The life of Bob Dylan, interpreted through a series of vignettes featuring six actors- each of whom embodies a different aspect of his life and career.

Review: I'M NOT THERE is a difficult film to pin down, much less review. For one thing, it's far from your run of the mill biopic. Much has been made of the decision to have six different actors play Dylan, but in a way- none of them actually plays the man himself. Rather, they play fictionalized versions of Dylan which represent different stages of Dylan's career.

Youngster Marcus Carl Franklin plays Woody, a kid who rides the rails from town to town, encountering people from different walks of life- and amazing them with his knack for music. Next is Christian Bale, who plays Jack Rollins, a young troubadour who takes the folk music world by storm in the early sixties, before turning his back on fame and becoming a Christian minister- just like Dylan did for a period in the late seventies.

Inevitably a Jack Rollins biopic is made. Young actor Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger) gets the role, and becomes a sensation overnight- although the fame goes to his head and ruins his relationship with his adoring wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourgh) This section likely mirrors Dylan's relationship with his first wife, Sara Lownds.

Meanwhile, Ben Whishaw plays a guy identifying himself as Arthur Rimbaud, which was an alias commonly used by Dylan and was a reference to the famous 19th century French poet. He finds himself in front of a draft board, and answers their questions in a very Dylan-esque fashion.

Next up is Cate Blanchett, who portrays Dylan in the guise of Jude Quinn- who finds himself under attack by fans and journalists alike once he switches from a folkish acoustic sound to an electric rock based beat. Dylan underwent a similar experience in the late sixties- which was documented in D.A. Pennebaker's landmark Dylan documentary- Don't Look Back. The stark black & white photography from that film is mimicked in this segment- which is a nice touch.

Finally- there's Richard Gere, in the most puzzling segment of them all. He plays an aged Billy the Kid, in hiding from old friend Pat Garrett, who's now a powerful and oppressive land baron. Billy the Kid was always an important figure in Dylan's music, as he supposedly identified strongly with the character- and even composed the soundtrack for Sam Peckinpah's seminal PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID. Dylan also had a small role in that film, which featured one of Dylan's best known songs- "Knockin' on Heaven's Door".

All in all, the film is a bit of a mixed bag. The Whislaw/ draft board segment is the briefest of the bunch, and doesn't make a huge impression. The Gere/ Billy the Kid portion of the film is pretty pretentious, and will likely confuse many. However, the segment boasts a show-stopping sequence where singer Jim James, from the band My Morning Jacket, performs a terrific rendition of Dylan's Goin' to Acapulco. The Blanchett section is probably the centerpiece of the film, and she makes a great Dylan. She plays the entire role in drag, and so perfectly embodies the man, that at times I forgot that a woman was playing the role.

Christian Bale and Marcus Carl Franklin do good work in their respective segments, but they're somewhat dwarfed by Blanchett- as once she appears in the film you pretty much forget about everyone else.

The Heath Ledger vignette, while interesting, is probably somewhat unnecessary, although it provides an interesting counterpoint to the other parts of the film, as it's the only sequence that doesn't focus on the Dylan -esque character, but rather on that character's scorned wife- played well by Gainsbourgh.

Director Todd Haynes has to be given credit for making a film that, despite being somewhat uneven, is totally memorable and absolutely worth seeing. While watching the film, I initially found that it was a little too artsy-fartsy, and meandering for my tastes. Yet, a few days after seeing the film, I was not able to stop thinking about it. It really stayed with me, and I imagine that it would be one of those rare films that will improve with repeated viewings.

Haynes has crafted a film that manages to be both pretentious and thought provoking- just like the man it aims to portray. It's an imperfect film about an imperfect man- but damn if it's not worthwhile.

Grade: 8.5/10 (but I wouldn't be surprised if the grade shoots up after a few more viewings)

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Source: JoBlo.com

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