The musical bio-pic is experiencing a resurgence as of late. Ray, Walk the Line and La Vie En Rose have all collected Oscars for their principle cast members, while the first two grossed heavily at the box office. The next film of this ilk to emerge is I’m Not There, maybe the most eagerly awaited of them all. For a start, the subject is Bob Dylan who has a following of fans and pop-cultural significance matched only by maybe a Lennon or Presley. Furthermore, Todd Haynes, who comes with a reputation of creative individuality (evidenced by his decision to portray Dylan with a range of actors, the facet that has drawn the film the most attention) helms the piece.
All the actors utilised acquit themselves well and through this device Dylan is successfully portrayed as a complex individual who went through many personal changes. Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of mid 60’s folk-rock era Dylan has garnered the most praise and it is all justified. Her performance is more than a ‘butch it up’ gimmick, she captures his mannerisms expertly and is also convincing in portraying the broadest range of emotions demanded of any cast member. Heath Ledger shows what a massive loss he is to the movie going public, whilst Christian Bale was impressive in the shorter amount of screen time he was allowed. Meanwhile, the child actor (Marcus Carl Franklin) who played Woody Guthrie almost upstages all his more well-known cast members.
Todd Haynes supplements the fine acting with almost every cinematic trick in the book. Most are them are effective in giving the film an adventurous visual quality, with only the mockumentary sequences falling short of the mark. A friend suggested they were reminiscent of folk music comedy A Mighty Wind and in retrospect I think he was right, which is a significant drawback when the moments in question were intended as deadly serious.
Somehow, the film as a whole is less than the sum of its admittedly impressive parts. Part of this may be due to the story it tells. It wanders from episode to episode without a strong progression of events, which becomes an issue the further we go into the two hours plus running time. It is a long film, and by the end it seems like it is being dragged out for no particular reason. Added to this is the desire to recreate, even reinforce, the mythology that surrounds Bob Dylan. It is more concerned with preserving his aura than telling the audience anything about the man, a desire that could have been satisfied with a briefer piece of work.
Dylan’s legion of fans will no doubt herald it as an artistic triumph. The casual viewer, however, may be left impressed by the craftsmanship but wondering what exactly was the point of I’m Not There.