Todd Haynes’ supposition on the life and music of Bob Dylan, “I’m Not There,” is unlike a film experience you’ll have this year. Haynes takes his time to tell you the stories of six Dylans and each story has a glaring question-mark as to how it pertains to “Dylan: The Biopic” or Dylan: the man. As you keep watching you realize, however, that this is not your average biopic and Dylan is not your average protagonist.
Haynes takes a bold risk here and I’m sure most audiences will walk away perplexed. Those who are going looking for a “Walk the Line” or “Ray”-type story about how the man who wrote the songs found his inspiration will be let down. The staunch Dylan supporters who constantly have to defend his importance and relevance to their friends who think Linkin Park is the cornerstone of great songwriting will not find any ammunition for that argument. Chronic moviegoers who hope for a straight-forward story and a rousing 135 minutes at the cineplex will find that this movie is anything but. Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There” is slow, sometimes dragging, and unless you are familiar with Bob Dylan’s mythology and biography you may be lost.
That being said, what you will find are some fantastic performances, vivid, beautiful cinematography, and a director who is not afraid to take some risks at the expense of telling a story audiences will approve.
It’s been much chronicled, but I’ll recap what you all probably know about this film—there are essentially six Bob Dylans and they all represent a different part of his (or the media’s perception of his) persona: the young, black child posing as Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) who is essentially a musical nomad; a Greenwich Village prophet (Christian Bale) who tells the truth through folk music; a movie-star-turned-lousy-husband-and-father (Heath Ledger); a much talked about musical god who neglected his fans (Cate Blanchett) by cavorting with the Beatles; a blunt and confusing man submitting to an uncomfortable Q&A (Ben Whishaw); and an outlaw not unlike Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) living in a fantastic world of his own creation.
Of the six, I’ll single out two actors to talk about here. Marcus Carl Franklin is wonderful. When he’s on screen, “I’m Not There” is winsome, charming, funny, and cool. His version of Bob, despite being the most controversial, is also the most refreshing because Franklin is absolutely delightful to watch. The other Bobs are a bit too serious and meandering, and because of limited screen-time, are never really fleshed out, so it was really important that young Bob be done correctly. Franklin’s time on-screen is filled with the stuff of solid biopics with background information and even little sly hints at the inspiration behind certain songs (such as “Like a Woman”) but it also has this dreamy quality that is hard to discount.
The other Bob that’s worth mentioning is Cate Blanchett’s Jude who is essentially the Bob Dylan that was represented in the 60’s documentary “Don’t Look Back.” She gives a triumphant performance that is full of the Bob Dylan mannerisms and physicality that we saw in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary but also showcases a vulnerability that Dylan doesn’t let anyone, especially the media (as portrayed by the magnetic Bruce Greenwood) witness.
It’s Greenwood’s appearance in Richard Gere’s story as Pat Garrett (the man who killed Billy the Kid *hint hint*) that really put it all together for me. This movie really is about how the media has taken a quiet, loner singer-songwriter and made him into something that can’t be reasonably explained. Todd Haynes was the right person to make the biopic because he realizes that there is no singular tale of Dylan that will appease an audience. Bob Dylan has written songs for 50 years and has meant so much to so many different kinds of people. He’s been a rocker, a folk artist, and a country man. He’s been the subject of several documentaries and countless publications. There is no need for a biopic, yet this man and his legacy demanded a feature film.
What Haynes has done is taken what he knew about Bob Dylan and turned it into his own piece of art. He brought to life a few things we know about Bob Dylan’s past and is speculating about the rest. He is preying upon what we know about the man and his music and is using a myriad of different story-telling tactics to give you the Bob Dylan you want to see: whether that’s the outlaw, the father, the dreamer, the prophet, the rebel, or the star is all up to you.
||Release Date: November 21, 2007
Rated: R for language, some sexuality and nudity.
Running Time: 135 min.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Marcus Carl Franklin
Director: Todd Haynes
Screenplay: Todd Haynes, Oren Moverman
Studio: The Weinstein Co.
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