out of Five
Running time: 135
Todd Haynes' bold, unconventional Dylan biopic is an experiment that doesn't always pay off, but there are strokes of genius in both the direction and performances.
What's it all about?
Todd Haynes' unconventional biopic of Bob Dylan stars six different actors in the lead role, each of whom portray different aspects of Dylan's life and work, as represented through a series of different personae. For example, in the 1950s, he's a boxcar-riding, folk tune-playing young black child named Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin) and in the 1960s he's protest-song icon Jack Rollins (Christian Bale), who subsequently disappears and has his life made into a movie starring Hollywood actor Robbie Clarke (Heath Ledger).
Later on, Cate Blanchett plays Jude, shocking her existing fanbase by embracing the electric guitar and hanging out with the suspiciously Edie Sedgwick-like Coco (Michelle Williams). Meanwhile, Rimbaud-esque poet Arthur (Ben Whishaw) offers a series of laconic interviews that serve as narration and Billy (Richard Gere) hangs around in the Wild West and, er, chases after his dog a lot.
Blanchett is terrific as Jude, completely immersing herself in the role and delivering a performance that's uncannily similar to the scruffy-haired 1960s Dylan we're most familiar with. Bale is equally good (particularly later on, when his character resurfaces as an evangelical preacher), as is Ledger, whose storyline about the decline of his marriage forms the film's most emotional storyline.
Haynes shoots each aspect in a different style, whether it's documentary footage for the scenes about Jack (who we only see in archive clips) or black and white neo-realist style for Jude, recalling It's A Hard Day's Night. However, some sections work better than others (Gere's is flat-out confusing) and the structure of the film is all over the place, randomly leaping from segment to segment and making it difficult to really engage with what's going on.
Ultimately, I'm Not There is a daring experiment that pays off beautifully in some sections but never quite comes together overall. However, it remains worth seeing for the performances and its terrific soundtrack.