It’s a milestone but it’s down on its luck

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It’s a milestone but it’s down on its luck

Korean film distributors have jerked audiences around enough. After two postponed releases, the hotly anticipated Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” is finally here.

The biggest draw is brilliant Cate Blanchett’s turn as the epic musician, and she does not disappoint. But she doesn’t exactly play Dylan. In fact, no one does.

I’m Not There presents aspects of Dylan through six different characters: a gifted African-American child (Marcus Carl Franklin) who’s assumed the alias “Woody Guthrie” (like the singer); dulcet-toned folk artist/activist Jack Rollins (Christian Bale); Robbie Clark (the late Heath Ledger), the actor who plays Rollins in a film; Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), a dour teen in an interrogation; Jude Quinn (Blanchett), most recognizably Dylan in his post-folk heyday; and Billy the Kid (Richard Gere), an odd hermit farmer.

Some of these characters are obviously more closely related to Dylan the man than others.

Blanchett, obviously, wins. In her dark shades, tousled black mane and skinny duds, she looks every bit the part. With her intonation and gait, she plays the musician with shocking skill. With her droll, monotonous delivery, Blanchett is the gritty Dylan whose music featured as much distorted instrumental feedback as it did generation-defining lyrics.

Throughout the Quinn story line, the wiseacre rocker gives an interview with an uptight BBC reporter. The development of the reporter’s story provides a nuanced look into the musician’s personality. Spliced into continuous form, Quinn’s story could be an insightful short film on its own.

Ledger as Clark is also arresting, although his character doesn’t exactly stand a chance to bear much resemblance to Dylan himself; as an actor playing a version of the musician, he’s twice-removed from the persona.

Even so, Clark’s tumultuous romance with French pacifist artist Claire, played by a sympathetic, vulnerable Charlotte Gainsbourg, is one of the most poignant story lines of the entire film.

But aside from Quinn and Clark’s bits, I’m Not There is a disjointed, incoherent film that I don’t think I could necessarily even call a narrative. Bale, who has the second-most meaty role aside from Blanchett, has so much to work with as Dylan in his early, “Blowin’ in the Wind” days, but does little more than mouth words to classic songs.

I’m Not There is intriguing and watchable because of its gimmicky premise, but in the end disappoints. Director and writer Todd Haynes appears to have laboriously conceived this project, but in the most convoluted way. Surely he could have found a better method of filmmaking than gluing together strange, unrelated images using Dylan’s tunes and Kris Kristofferson’s narration.

Save the moments when the theatrical virtuosity of Blanchett, Ledger and Gainsbourg shine through, I’m Not There simply presents a lot of wasted effort and talent. But at least the music is great.

I’m Not There

Biopic, drama, music / English

135 min.

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By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [hannahbae@gmail.com]

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