I'm Not There

I'm Not There

**

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Todd Haynes’ latest movie doesn’t so much cross the boundary from audaciousness into pretentiousness as take a one-way ticket to Poseur Central. The result is a beautifully shot, brilliantly acted incoherent mess, ranking up there with David Lynch’s Inland Empire as one of the most inscrutable films of the year.

The idea behind the film is to explore the different facets of Bob Dylan’s character and influences, illustrating this and key points in his career through the use of six different actors, playing six different characters, none of whom is actually called Bob.

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Marcus Carl Franklin (so good in Lackawanna Blues) proves again he is a young actor to watch with his portrayal of "Woody Guthrie" - not the folk singer you may imagine but a black, child hobo. Second in line is Jack (Christian Bale in brooding form), a protest singer in New York. Hot on his heels is Robbie (Heath Ledger), an actor who finds fame in a biopic of Jack and has a troubled relationship with Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Those still following what little narrative exists have to get their heads around Cate Blanchett as Jude, representing perhaps the best known image of Dylan from his Dont Look Back period in the mid-Sixties, and Billy (Richard Gere), an ageing Billy The Kid, based on the assumption that he dodged Pat Garrett’s bullet, who appears to live in the historical mid-West. Acting as chorus is Arthur (Ben Wishaw), an anti-establishment poet, who pops up occasionally to pontificate on his motivations.

The result is simply a triumph of style over content. All the different segments use different types of film stock and reference films from the periods they are trying to emulate. So Jude’s story, chiefly concerning Dylan’s fight with his fans and the press, owes much stylistically to Federico Felini’s 8½, while Robbie’s tale is in debt to Jean Luc-Godard and the Gere segment relies heavily on influences from Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. There is Super-8, Cinemascope – it’s all here. This, however, merely adds to the general confusion. It is a big enough ask to expect an audience to follow all the different personas, each travelling through their own separate, very loose narrative, but to compound this with stylistic tics amounts to directorial hubris.

The biggest problem lies with the narrative itself. Those not intimately familiar with Dylan’s life and work will find little to enlighten them here. The now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t nature of the genuine incidents from his life become muddy in the soup of style. In particular, the Gere section, although nicely acted, borders on the surreal and lacks narrative drive.

Initially, there is a thought in the back of your mind that to divine understanding the best thing would be to watch the film several times, but should cinemagoers reward filmmakers for being unnecessarily obtuse? Equally, one comes to suspect that even repeated viewings would fail to derive any great sense of import from the sight of a giraffe wandering through a township, or Woody being eaten by a Ray Harryhausen-style leviathan. What emerges is more of an academic exercise in technique than an engaging discourse.

There is no denying that the actors – Blanchett, in particular – nail down the style of Dylan, but they cannot rectify the fact that real insight into the man himself simply isn’t here.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2007
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I'm Not There packshot
Experimental biopic examining the shifting persona of Bob Dylan throughout his career.
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Director: Todd Haynes

Writer: Todd Haynes, Oren Moverman

Starring: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Benz Antoine, Shaun Balbar, Mark Camacho, Joe Cobden, David Cross

Year: 2007

Runtime: 135 minutes

Country: USA, Germany


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