Friday, April 10, 2009

Review: I'm Not There

If writer-director Todd Haynes' film I'm Not There. (2007) is to be taken as a straight up biopic about the life and work of music icon Bob Dylan, then this is what we take away from it; Dylan was a phony, pretentious, unoriginal crybaby. But the film's beyond unconventional structure and presentation suggest that it is instead intended as something else. 
To call it experimental would be a misnomer; experimentation is connected to a lack of certainty, and this does not describe Haynes' work here. His assured vision and direction guide the film along at an intentional pace, down twisting ally ways and up into the mystifying heavens. The experience is however arthouse; the narrative, if it can rightly be called such, tennis-balls hither and thither between five different characters and timelines. Beautiful cinematography by Edward Lachman, alternately in color and black-and-white, elevates the film from insufferable pretentiousness to purer cinematic territory. 
Central to the project are the actors that play five characters based on various aspects of Dylan's life. First is newcomer Marcus Carl Franklin, who plays Woody Guthrie, a kid riding the rails with dusty guitar in hand, affecting a poor southern twang when he is in fact a middle-class northerner. Next is Christian Bale as Jack Rollins, an iteration clearly inspired by Dylan's folk days and initial rise to fame. Health Ledger shines as usual as an actor who catches his big break playing Rollins in a film. Though filmed and released before The Dark Knight, it is nonetheless worth contemplating the fact that the most recent incarnations of Batman and his arch-nemesis the Joker play two sides of the same coin here. Bale (Batman) as the honest, humble people's musician, and Ledger (the Joker) as the sociopathic, womanizing sham-artist who rides the former's fame. 
Of course, the main attraction, the exhibit everyone is talking about, is actress Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn, Dylan's gone-electric Judas character. The hype is deserved; Blanchett so convincingly and casually plays a man that this reviewer would not have known the difference without being aware of the casting. From the voice to the walk to the expression, she captures Dylan at the hight of his apathetic rock star phase. 
Rounding out the ensemble is Richard Gere as Billy the Kid, probably meant to be Dylan as he is now, an outlaw of sorts and a wise, wondering old folk sage. 
As is stated above, narrative is not really a word that fits in a description of this film. It is a collection of interconnected moments, and they are juxtaposed and added up to equal something that is not immediately apparent and cannot be quantified. Haynes clearly has some wild and unique understanding of cinema, and it oozes in I'm Not There. 

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