Every year there seems to be at least one or two biopics about famous musicians that garner a lot of attention. A few years ago “Ray” was released, and the year after that “Walk the Line” hit theaters. Both of those films became huge hits. Director Todd Haynes’ (“Far From Heaven”) new film “I’m Not There” is this year’s huge biopic and it tells the story of Bob Dylan. Unlike the previously mentioned films, “I’m Not There” is completely different in its delivery of its story. It is remarkably original, very funny, and also happens to be one of the best films of the year.
A total of six actors play different versions of the famous bard in this film, a fairly original idea that works perfectly. Dylan himself was so many different people throughout his career so it would have been hard to make a film with just one actor following a singular timeline.
Ben Whishaw plays Arthur, the mysterious side of Dylan that the public saw in interviews. His character isn’t very developed but that’s done on purpose to show that mystifying side. Young Marcus Carl Franklin wonderfully plays a pre-adolescent version of Dylan named Woody. Franklin’s character is more abstract than Whishaw’s character in that he plays the young and excited characteristics of a very innocent Dylan (his character is named after Woody Guthrie, one of Dylan’s biggest inspirations as a musician).
Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a character that splits into two sides of Dylan: the folk legend and the preacher. Bale’s interpretation of Dylan is subtle yet very powerful especially during his unbelievable (albeit lip-synched) version of “Pressing On.” Bale is also the least featured character in the film, and while he pops up later in the film in some memorable scenes it would have been better to see more of him.
Heath Ledger is the weakest part of the film. He plays actor Robbie Clark who portrays the unpleasant celebrity side of Dylan. His relationship with French artist Claire (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) is drawn out throughout the film. Their general disdain for each other from the beginning makes one wonder why they got together in the first place. Ledger seems to play the same conflicted character in many of his films and it would be refreshing to see him in a more upbeat role.
Richard Gere plays the older, reclusive side of Dylan. His story is the most abstract part of the film. He plays Billy the Kid (the famous outlaw) in reclusion after breaking out of jail. Gere is surprisingly strong in his role and like Bale, he is very subtle yet undeniably moving.
The film truly belongs to Cate Blanchett. Her scenes as Jude Quinn depict the often frowned upon moment when Dylan dropped his acoustic guitar and became electric. Blanchett is almost unrecognizable both physically and in her voice and mannerisms. She is Dylan, and at times it is easy to forget that this is an actress playing a role in a movie. In fact, after seeing the film, it is very hard to think of any other actor or actress who could have performed as well as Blanchett. Her performance (her best ever) will land her an Oscar Nomination and possibly her second win.
Besides Cate Blanchett, the other star of the film is its soundtrack. Released about a month ago, it has received rave reviews and it deserves every bit of praise. It features all sorts of indie musicians such as Sufjan Stevens, Mason Jennings, Stephen Malkmus, Yo La Tengo, and Calexico. Charlotte Gainsbourg (who appears in the film) does an amazing rendition of “Just Like a Woman” that lingers long after it’s played. The movie does a very good job of infusing these covers with the performances of the actors.
The film is not perfect, but it is the perfect Bob Dylan biopic. Its non-linear storytelling fits its source material but may turn off a lot of viewers, especially those who aren’t familiar with Bob Dylan. For those who get the chance, it is highly recommended to watch Martin Scorsese’s documentary “Bob Dylan: No Direction Home” before seeing this film. It is very well made, and clears up a lot about what is going on in “I’m Not There.”
Otherwise, the film shows that this man who we’ve always seen as a mystery is a real person just dealing with the pressures of fame, love, loss, and life. If the film had depicted just one of the different aspects of Dylan, there would have still been a lot to be desired. All together, each section of the film forms one amazing movie that shines above many of the films of 2007 and is a genuine pleasant surprise.