Courtesy of Jonathan Wenk/TWC
Courtesy of Jonathan Wenk/TWC
Review in a Hurry: "Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan," this experimental biopic is pretty out there, adopting visual styles of the '60s and '70s but eschewing a solid narrative. It also features six actors portraying Dylan at different points in his life and career (and if you didn't know that going in, you'd be real confused). Would you believe Cate Blanchett comes closest to embodying the multifaceted artist?
The Bigger Picture: Director Todd Haynes can't be bothered with a conventional biopic. Instead, he creates an impressionistic, kaleidoscopic portrait, which might seem right for the pic's period and enigmatic subject but proves only intermittently successful. His decision to use six actors for Dylan's various personas feels more like a cinematic stunt, and the look-who's-playing-him-now factor keeps the audience at an emotional distance.
There jumps here and there between its pseudo-storylines, though not haphazardly, with symbolist poet Arthur (Ben Whishaw, in a twitchy turn) interjecting aphorisms throughout. Representing Dylan's early aspirations is 11-year-old Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), a black, train-hopping, guitar-toting prodigy who performs for anyone who'll listen. Learning to "sing about your own time," he eventually morphs into moody Jack (Christian Bale) and achieves success in the protest-music scene of the early '60s. (Years later, Jack finds Jesus and sports a frizzy perm and leisure suit—very Mr. Brady.)
Other Dylan incarnations include movie actor Robbie (Heath Ledger), who tries to balance fame with his roles as husband and father, and—in the most perplexing chapter—reclusive Billy (Richard Gere), who briefly finds sanctuary in a tiny Missouri town populated by circus animals and performers. Okayyy...
The flick only kicks into gear when Blanchett struts onto the screen as amphetamine-addled Jude (hey, Jude!). Embracing a new amplified-rock sound, Jude alienates folk fans and pisses off the press during her British tour in the mid-'60s. The amazing actress, having captured Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, gives another electrifying performance here, completely channeling Dylan and synching best with Haynes' trippy-poppy aesthetic.
After showing great restraint in Far from Heaven, Haynes gets high on his spectrum of styles: B&W, color, documentary, visual metaphors, surrealism, etc. But despite all that flair and a game-for-anything cast, There does little to illuminate Dylan; he remains "a complete unknown, like a rolling stone."
The 180—a Second Opinion: Film students, take note! Watch for Haynes' homages to filmmakers of the period, including documentarian D.A. Pennebaker (Don't Look Back, about Dylan) and Richard Lester, director of the classic Beatles movies A Hard Day's Night and Help! (The Fab Four cameo here, frolicking about with Blanchett before being chased away by fans.) Yes, yes, Lester also gave us Superman II and III, but that's another lecture...