Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm Not There (2007)

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There are two approaches to disrupting the monotony possessing the current trend of musical biopics; mock the films like the upcoming "Walk Hard" film, or create something entirely and completely different. Todd Haynes has chosen the latter, and with I'm Not There, he has created a film that depicts the life and times of Bob Dylan in a thoroughly non-traditional sense. I'm Not There divides Dylan's life into distinct segments, and each Dylan, or each aspect of Dylan, is played by a different actor. Whereas Ray and Walk the Line reenacted the exact events as they occurred, I'm Not There creates a somewhat abstract image of periods of Dylan's life and the character's and themes of his songs. These include an 11-year old boy, played nicely by Marcus Carl Franklin, who calls himself Woody Guthrie, who may or may not represent the young Dylan striving to make his own image in the shadow of his heroes, and Jack Rollins, played by Christian Bale, who may or may not represent Dylan's rise to fame, treatment by the press, and strange Gospel period. Other actors include Ben Whishaw, Richard Gere, and Heath Ledger who all are captivating as their own piece of what Bob Dylan means. All of the portrayals are about equal, except for the one glaring exception of Cate Blanchett. Her performance as super-star Dylan, the creative genius growing up in front of America in his mid-twenties, is not only legendary, but perfect in its subtlety and honesty and deserving of awards and acclaim. It is breathtaking how completely she captures the essence of Dylan and how effortlessly she becomes a mythic figure. Haynes has both hits and misses in his first widely-released film. Hits include the great soundtrack compilation of Dylan songs covered by a multitude of artists which is great for both the artists and the placement of songs within scenes, the psychedelic feel to the editing, and the mixture of color, black-and-white, and superimposed graphics. Misses include the sometimes too fast and confusing cuts and jumps between characters, and the Behind the Music style presentation of the Christian Bale scenes. The direction, writing, and performances produce a work of art in its own, but those completely unfamiliar with Dylan will almost certainly be confused, and even some Dylan fans will be scratching their heads at times. But the film truly embodies the spirit of Bob Dylan, whose songs and personal life never really went as planned, and could never be read only at the surface, or the same way by more than one person. I'm Not There is an experiment that worked because of the clear devotion of Haynes and the great cast to the legacy and meaning of Bob Dylan.

Good For: Dylan fans, Blanchett fans, people who like art, people looking for something different

Bad For: those who know nothing about Dylan, people looking for a straight-forward story, the easily confused

The Gallery
The Surfer: * * * * *
The Film Maker: * * * *

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