Co-writer and director Todd Haynes has taken an innovative approach to the music bio-pic with I’m Not There, a strange and unique film which is inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan.
The film features six different actors who portray characters based on Dylan in various stages of his personal and professional career.
Young black actor Marcus Carl Franklin plays a travelling musician who has taken the name of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie; Welsh actor Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a pioneering Greenwich Village folk singer who goes into seclusion and returns as born again preacher Pastor John; Australian actor Heath Ledger plays Robbie Clark, a James Dean-esque bohemian actor who portrays Rollins in a film, and is also going through the motions of a divorce with his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg); English actor Ben Whishaw plays Arthur Rimbaud, a poet who is undergoing an interrogation; Australian actress Cate Blanchett plays Jude Quinn, a popular folk singer who evokes the hatred of her fans when she begins to use electric instruments, and the intense scrutiny of the press while touring England (especially from a critic played by Bruce Greenwood); and American actor Richard Gere plays Billy the Kid, who is hiding in seclusion in a quiet little town until Pat Garrett (Bruce Greenwood, again) forcefully tries to evacuate its residents so he can continue the development of a new road.
There are also cameos by Julianne Moore as Alice Fabion (who is based on real life folksinger and activist Joan Baez), Michelle Williams as an uptight super model, and comedian David Cross as poet Allen Ginsberg.
Every actor brings something special to their performances. Christian Bale continues to show his versatility and impresses with a solid singing voice, Cate Blanchett puts on an astonishingly excellent chameleonic performance (her expertise in mimicry paying off big time and sure to land her plenty of accolades come awards season), and Heath Ledger continues to impress with another strong performance.
I’m Not There spits in the face of conventional filmmaking, with director Todd Haynes opting to take an inspired approach whilst telling the story of a legendary musician who would have not benefited from the style of filmmaking seen in Ray and Walk the Line.
It is a rather bizarre film that takes on different colours and tones. The way in which the film is shot and edited reminds me somewhat of Oliver Stone during the 1990’s, in particular JFK and Natural Born Killers. Numerous sections are shot in black and white, scenes focusing on the Jack Rollins character is shot as if it was a documentary, and the Billy the Kid sequences are confusingly trippy. The film’s surrealistic elements do little more than further complicate things.
Praise should be given to Editor Jay Rabinowitz in crafting such an eccentric bunch of sequences without the benefit of a singular narrative. Cinematographer Edward Lachman also does a first rate job.
Despite its flaws, I’m Not There does succeed in adapting Dylan’s story to the big screen. He has had an extraordinarily varied and storied career that could only be told with such unconventional methods.
Fans of Dylan would understand the films eccentricities, yet others (myself included) will still find I’m Not There an entertaining and thought provoking biography of a man who has been labelled a spokesman for a generation, a traitor to his cause, and a messiah. But in the end, he is just a musician, and everything else is secondary.