I'm Not There....and I wish I hadn't been.....
Leave it to popular culture at large to herald a steaming pile of shit as an amazing piece of cinema, especially when the topic is on Dylan, and the majority of people don't listen to his music at all,but merely know he's important because he's supposed to be. As frustrating as that kid in your seventh grade class with the G'n'R shirt that couldn't name a single song, this movie does nothing for actual fans, and as far as I can tell would only further confuse a casual listener why anyone gave a shit in the firstplace....
If it's a semi coherent surface level approach you're looking for, the movie fails to deliver, and when the movie is directed towards people that are already well steeped in his body of work, his mystique, and the combined powerhouse that is Pennebakers in the moment coverage of Don't Look Back and Scorsese's sprawling, nearly all encompassing biography No Direction Home, Dylan is probably the last musical icon that needed anymore film time beyond an acting cameo.
The well documented pre-release premise revolves around capturing different aspects of Dylan's persona with different actors, and going back and forth between all. In theory, an amazing approach that provides unbelievable flexibility while still being able to conceptually attach itself as need be. Boy did Haynes fucking blow it.
Instead of being loose concepts that all lead to a whole, the individual roles and acting try too hard in their own regards to still be "Dylan" in mannerism, almost losing the whole basis the director himself has preached. Instead of taking the parts and adding up to a whole, the audience is subjected to six equally cringe worthy characters that all fail on multiple levels, continuously keeping the viewer from ever fully feeling wrapped in the story.
Perhaps on some level this was the director's intention, however misguided, to retain a prevailing sense of detachment from the artist as Dylan has perpetuated throughout his career. This is a stretch at best though, demanding the audience to take the fall for the movie's weakness, when it's supposed intention is to bring the viewer closer in a way we previously could not.
Musically, Dylan reportedly gave full access to all archives and recorded works, including the previously rare basement tapes and floating bootlegs. Instead of taking the opportunity to include mostly previously unheard works as a chance to bring a freshness to well trodden ground, the director opts for poorly lip synched musical numbers for the most part, more often than not sung not even by the actors themselves. When they do sing, it falls incredibly short even in a conceptual approach, when merely using the emotional rawness of incomplete or unreleased recordings would have done all the talking for him. The young boy, while a competant actor, comes across as more of a distraction in the beginning of the film, forcing viewers to struggle to find some connection through the scatterbrained shots and disconnected story line of a very small aspect of his personality, all the while revealing almost nothing to lead to the future Dylan's.
Heath Ledger comes across as acting in a whole different movie, pretending to be Val Kilmer pretending to be Dylan, and failing miserably to do even that.
Blanchett's stellar performance is still hindered by the fact it's reduced to a mere impression of Dylan, though a good one, while Haynes attempts to tread into interesting Cinematic grounds.
This would be all good if it weren't for the fact that they are direct visual pilferings of Fellini's 8 1/2. Perhaps an attempted homage, but he takes nearly scene for scene visuals, and iconic ones at that for even the most basic of foreign movie buffs, from tunnel traffic scenes involving slow takes with passersby staring awkwardly, to courtyard awkwardness under midcentury furnishings dealing directly with the same over excitable media as in Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita', which itself brought us the very term paparazi that is blatantly portrayed in the scene, as well as perhaps one of THE most blatant thefts in movie making history by posturing Dylan floating in midair high above the ground with a rope tied to his ankle. It's almost as if the director were screaming "See, see, I know more than I've shown you, I know good movies even though I didn't make one this time!" More disheartening, is in their elementary takes here by Haynes they add next to nothing story or context wise, further confusing why he would even take such a blatant effort to involve them.
Richard Gere adds the most, though he benefits from the fact that his 'character' is the furthest away from Dylan's actual life. If anything, Haynes nailed his concept with Gere's throwback woodsman portion, and gave up on everyone else. Gere actually gets to act as opposed to mimic, and he becomes the highlight through no fault of his own. The sets and scenery actually take you out of the theatre briefly the way no other parts of the movie do, but only set up for more abrupt jumps back into poor attempts at other approaches to Dylan's life.
I'm not sure whether their deletion would improve the film so as to not make you realize how weak it's other portions are, if it would make it completely unwatchable by removing the only viewable aspects of the whole film. I'm assuming the latter.
Ben Wishaw's interrogation scenes add literally nothing to the film. Completely 100% pointless. No different aspect of perception, personality, character, or visual style that is not revealed during the screentime of one of the other 'characters'. It is literally pointless. How does a major director with millions of dollars in a budget, at this point, get away with filming and including absolutely pointless scenes throughout a film? Artistically I can find no reason why these were necessary outside of having hired the actor and budgeted the funds. Even in the cutting room, I sincerely feel for the sore son of a bitch that had to decide what to include, as if this were the cream of the crop there was nothing there to begin with.
Christian Bale is and has always been a badass. Somehow Haynes has managed to pull a performance out of him not even worthy of a VH1 Rockumentary. Completely distracting, completely out of his element, and this is from a man known for his incredible versatility and willingness to go to extremes to get there.
Julianne Moore's documentary style interviews have the feel of a Christopher Guest endevor, involving the same cheapness and feigned authenticity, except the joke never comes. When was the last time Julianne Moore put in a bad performance? Exactly.
This movie dissappoints on every conceivable level. For a piece of work that with even the quickest of glances at the marketing and reviews would only attract die hard fans, it exposes nothing new about the artist, and muddles together what could have been an incredibly dynamic dramatization of his well documented life given the premise. For normal movie goers, it would confuse beyond belief and warrant a million reasons to back the persistant surface level opinon of Dylan of "I don't get it, why bother?".
All in all, fuck this movie. Despite all the good press for the film, mark my words, five years from now this will not even be talked about except for the all encompassing blanket level of involving multiple actors for one character. Expect to see twenty more films with the same concept, and expect 19 of them to be bad. Still, all twenty of those will inevitably be better than this.
Welcome a new era in movie making we haven't seen in twenty years, stealing concepts and making them better instead of worse. Unfortuantely we had to sit through this garbage to get inspired.
It used to be we were awed by film, now it seems that the prevailing feeling is that anyone could do it. While this is definitely not the case, Haynes has at least set the bar low enough that any future imitators will undoubtedly fare better than him, so I thank him in advance for bringing a thoughtless approach to usually arthouse fare up to the spotlight so that maybe in the next ten years somebody that saw this will say "I can do that", and will, and will do it right. In the meantime, fuck this film.
To add insult to injury, I have never walked out of a film, ever, and enjoy usually intolerable things for the sheer fact of sharing the misery with others, and went out a fourth of the way to smoke a cigarette not the least bit concerned that I was missing something. Had it not been for the company I went with, I never would have finished the movie. A large part of me still wishes I hadn't.