The new film by Todd Haynes is as about as unique and as ambitious as one can get. Based off the songs, stories and life of Bob Dylan, six different actors play different parts of Dylan’s psyche, and they are all inter cut and loosely assembled to form somewhat of a narrative that is kind of sort of linear.
I will admit the editing and arrangement of this film takes a bit to get used to, but once you settle in you just sit back and enjoy the ride. Some might also be confused by the fact that everyone is supposed to be Dylan but use different names, or that sometimes one actor who is a manifestation of Dylan is playing another manifestation of Dylan in a movie within the movie, so Dylan is essentially playing Dylan sometimes, and that’s ok, it might just take a second to wrap your head around that. Now before I go into my synopsis here, I just want to go on the record that I am not claiming I am right, or know what everything means in this movie. I probably need to even see it again, and I would have probably a much better grasp on the material if I knew more about the life of Bob Dylan.
Now, Marcus Carl Franklin owns the first chunk of the movie as Woody, who I interpreted as Dylan before he became famous. Woody mentions he wrote some other people’s songs, that he busted his chops on stage with some famous names, and everyone that hears him play likes what they hear, he is just waiting to make a name for himself.
Next up I think I will cover, Ben Whishaw, who plays Arthur. Arthur has the least screen time and is dubbed “the poet” by the narrator. All of Arthur’s scenes consist of him getting interviewed or questioned by an assumed authority figure of some sort. He offers insights and verbiage about the story and helps link things together as best as this film can along with the Narrator (Kris Kristofferson). Whishaw is very good here, and has some of the funnier lines in the film among the headier poems he occasionally spews out.
Heath Ledger has the least to do in the film but is our gateway into Dylan’s home life through, Robbie. We get to see the rise and fall of Robbie as a family man; well actually we miss most of the middle. We get to see Robbie meet his future wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and the fun love of their early years, but mostly we watch Claire deal with Robbie and his being on the road and as an absent father. Robbie’s story was the weakest in my opinion, but Gainsbourg is great and Ledger is solid as always.
Christian Bale plays Jack as well as Pastor John who both encompass the eras of Dylan when the people thought they were talking to him with a purpose. Jack sings “protesting” songs and is the folk singing hero that introduced Dylan to the mainstream world. Jack gives the people messages with his lyrics, gives them a unified voice for the politicians to hear, and ultimately gives them hope of better times in their crazy society of the time. Bale is great and seems to be having a blast here as the boozed up, bizarre, and unintelligible Dylan of the early 60’s. Bale also reappears later on in the film as Pastor John, who has had a religious awakening and is preaching his gospel to the people. It is a quick bit in the film, and Bale looks great in that curly fro, but is a minor role in the movie and comes and goes as fast as his Gospel spell during Dylan’s long career. Bale also begins the abandonment of Dylan’s folk fans with Jack’s acceptance of the “Tom Paine Award”, where he compares him self to recent assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
Jude is played by Cate Blanchett and personifies Dylan’s rebellious phase and his leap away from folk music. Most of Jude’s story takes place in
Richard Gere is our last Dylan, Billy, who is in hiding in Riddle,
I know this film and review might seem a bit confusing and more trouble than worth dealing with, but there is a rewarding experience here if you give it a chance that is as solid as any of the recent string of great movies to be released recently; and it will only get better on repeat viewings and reflection. But just remember this about Dylan, “he is everyone, he is no one”, and maybe the style of this movie will make a little more sense.