Plot: Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan comes “I’m Not There.” Todd Haynes directs six different actors portraying Dylan as a series of shifting personae at different moments in his life and/or dreams. Who’s it for: The obvious answer here is that you must love the music of Dylan. Beyond that if you like the standard film (intro, conflict, resolution) you need to steer clear of this one.
Expectations: I fall into the category of loving Bob Dylan. “Like a Rolling Stone” is my second-favorite song of all time. Director Haynes made a great nod to the 1950s with “Far From Heaven,” so maybe he’s good at nods.
SCORECARD Actors: Cate Blanchett as Jude: Jude is the persona of Dylan when he picked up the electric guitar and openly complained about everything. Blanchett nails his mannerisms, and wins the best Dylan impersonation. Grade: 8
Christian Bale as Jack: Coming in a close second is Bale as the young, folk singing Dylan as well as the Christian preacher. I would have been content if these two were the only ones trying to find Dylan’s spirit. Grade: 6
Heath Ledger as Robbie: Ledger is one of the best young actors around, but he just didn’t do it for me here. Robbie is a film star instead of musician. I never got the emotional center of Robbie, who just seemed to be unhappy more than anything. Grade: 5
Talking: It’s odd because some of the conversations in this film are lifted directly from documentaries, such as Julianne Moore as Alice, who is really Joan Baez. But you never get the sense of what is historic and what isn’t. Grade: 5
Sights and sounds: “I’m Not There” flips back and forth from color to black and white. Bob Dylan sings most of the songs, though there are some covers, but we don’t see the real Dylan until the very end with some concert footage. Grade: 6
PLOT SPOILERS Best Scene: Ben Whishaw plays Arthur as the young poet Dylan. He is barely in the film, which is unfortunate. Out of the group, he would be best to have played Dylan in a biopic.
Ending: Eventually you realize it’s OK to get up and walk away from this film for 20 minutes. “I’m Not There” is more about the vibe it creates than one particular scene.
Random Thoughts: OK, I think I need a standard biopic of Bob Dylan’s life. I’ve read about him, been to museums with special Dylan exhibits, and this film isn’t exactly what I need. But maybe a film isn’t enough. HBO, get on a miniseries as quickly as possible. Thanks.
Rewatchability: If it’s on Sundance or IFC in the future, I would watch certain sections of this, or maybe if there is a great commentary on the DVD.
OVERALL This is not a film. “I’m Not There” is a poem, an ode to Bob Dylan. It’s nearly impossible to decipher the truth and fiction in the many wrepresentations of Dylan. Some work and some don’t, with Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Ben Whishaw coming out on top. Throughout the entire film is Dylan’s music, but there are too many off-the-beaten paths that crop up such as Richard Gere as Billy the Kid. Director Todd Haynes takes an artistic leap, I just don’t want to catch all of the finished product.
Overall Grade: 5