Review: “I’m Not There”

Todd Haynes’ avante garde take on the life of Bob Dylan is certainly the year’s most original effort of filmmaking. Utilizing one of the strangest structures ever conceived for a biopic, ‘There’ portrays different times in Bob Dylan’s life as completely different characters – each with their own distinct personalities and subplots.

It’s a very risky thing to do, and Haynes does slip up on occasion, but for the most part it proves an entirely cohesive whole that more honors Dylan as an artist and what he stood for rather than examines or reveal insight into one of the 20th century’s most famed musical auteurs.

Where the fumbles occur is unfortunately a basic tenant of all filmmaking like this – with six different stories unfolding in a just over two hour feature, some get the short shrift whilst others are notably weaker than the stand-outs.

By far the strongest is Cate Blanchett’s brilliant spin on the semi-stoned sunglass wearing character that recent generations most identify Dylan with. It’s bold for an actress to play a such an iconic male figure and she never falters for a second with her sometimes comic, slightly exaggerated but always fascinating performance which also thankfully seems to have the biggest chunk of runtime.

Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger also deliver interesting and more somber riffs on Dylan’s earlier career and his failed first marriage. Not so lucky are Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw and especially Richard Gere who’re stuck with subplots that are simply too esoteric even for such a film as this – and often drag the pace to a complete stop.

The movie takes many strange turns and indulges in some very self-indulgent moments that only the most hardcore Dylan purists will understand let alone enjoy. It’s a very difficult film to penetrate and so many will right off its disjointed approach as merely amateur, but in many ways it seems Haynes’ point is to confuse – to bring back mystery to such an enigmatic man.

One only for those who can handle such off-the-wall arthouse fare, but those who do may find endless rewards the rest of us can only glimpse.