I'm Not There Review

Nov 21, 2007 | 4:10am EST

Ostensibly the story of the man considered by many to be America's greatest songwriter I'm Not There isn't a traditional narrative tale. Six different actors embody aspects of Dylan's life mythology and imagination; each goes by a different name and each has his own road to travel. Some of them are clearly recognizable as Dylan stand-ins while others have more symbolic connections to the singer's life and career. The story's "action" (such that it is) takes place between the '50s and the '80s shifting back and forth depending on which character is in the spotlight. Some scenes portray recognizable moments in Dylan's life (going electric for instance) while others are more enigmatic. Dylan devotees may well appreciate some of the film's more obscure storytelling choices but casual fans looking for a decisive portrait of an American icon won't find it here. While many aspects of I'm Not There are wide open to interpretation the stars' performances are easier to evaluate. Three of the six--Cate Blanchett as defensive '60s artist Jude Quinn  Christian Bale as protest-music legend Jack Rollins (who later becomes religious Pastor John) and Ben Whishaw as irony-fueled interviewee Arthur Rimbaud--are identifiable Dylan doppelgangers using everything from shaggy hair to vocal mannerisms to evoke him. Blanchett is the stand-out in this group; her Jude is cynical and vulnerable nihilistic and idealistic. The other three "Dylans"--Heath Ledger as rebel actor Robbie Clark  Marcus Carl Franklin as wandering troubadour Woody Guthrie and Richard Gere as reclusive Billy the Kid--are more representative of the singer's career and material. Of this trio Franklin who's charmingly convincing as a world-weary traveler trapped in an 11-year-old's body pulls off the most challenging acting feat. Todd Haynes is known for inventive movies like Far From Heaven and Velvet Goldmine but none of his previous films are quite as experimental as I'm Not There. The constant shifts in style combined with the lack of a clear storyline make the film tricky to follow and sometimes nearly impossible to understand. In that sense it's like poetry--or song lyrics. And while you may not always "get" it it's hard not to be caught up in the sensibility of it all. The movie raises questions about loaded topics like meaning intent message art and feeling but I'm Not There doesn't aim to definitively answer these questions. Instead it aims to get audiences pondering such Big Ideas. Those who embrace Bob Dylan  Haynes seems to suggest should be more than up to the challenge. And those who aren't can at least enjoy the soundtrack...

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