This is a film about Bob Dylan, but if other, more recent, music biographies like "Ray" or "Walk the Line" come to your head, forget about them. This is not your typical biopic.
First off, the film isn't linear. There are six actors playing Bob Dylan. Not all of them are of the same race or even the same gender, and lastly, not one of them is called Bob Dylan in the film. Confused? Yeah! So was I!
Richard Gere ("Pretty Woman" and "Chicago"), Christian Bale ("American Psycho" and "Batman Begins"), Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth" and "The Aviator"), Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin all play Bob Dylan at different points and phases of his life.
Christian Bale incorporates Dylan's voice and mannerisms, but of the six, Cate Blanchett is the only actor who does a dead-on impersonation. But again, none of them are realistically supposed to be Bob Dylan. They're all mere representations of songs or aspects of Dylan's life and his various musical periods. It's just weird.
Unless you're a fan of Bob Dylan or have read about him extensively, none of these people or anything they're supposed to represent will make any sense to you. Basically, they're a series of fragments, not even short stories, but rather vignettes, glimpses you could say, images and emotions that are meant to sketch out some portrait of the popular folk artist, but it's all too loosely strung together.
Marcus Carl Franklin plays Woody Guthrie, not the famous Dust Bowl-era folk singer who penned "This Land is Your Land," but an 11-year-old black, guitar-playing hobo who hops from train to train who supposed to signify Bob Dylan's appeal of Guthrie, the traveling troubadour. Unlike the other actors who lip-sync, Franklin has a great singing voice. But besides one dinner scene where he's scolded for copying other people's style of music, as Dylan tried to do of Guthrie, you don't get enough of this kid who I think is really amazing.
Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a protest singer who can't take the big bad commercial tastelessness of mainstream pop music, so he disassociates himself only later to convert to become a Christian minister. Yet, Bale is so under-utilized. The progression of this story is instead delivered by documentary-style testimonials, which give some idea of the nature of Bale's character but never a firm grasp. He lip-syncs to two great Dylan songs and is entertaining but a more thorough exploration of his story would have been preferable.
There really isn't much that's preferable about Richard Gere who plays Billy the Kid. Talk about a cinematic non-sequitor. Gere literally wakes up in a Western. You could sort of make the argument that Franklin's character, who is referred to as a fugitive as he runs off into the West by himself, is merely the younger version of Gere's character. Or the argument could be made that Gere's Billy the Kid would be the next, natural step of Franklin's character, but even that's a stretch. In Gere's scenes, there's just a bunch of gypsies and strangely a giraffe.
Speaking of pointless appearances, Ben Whishaw plays Arthur Rimbaud, a poet who shows up in black-and-white to give commentaries, which like this film in total make no sense. Rimbaud's moments really become a waste of time.
The only thing that isn't a waste of time is the section featuring Heath Ledger who plays Robbie Clark, an actor playing Jack Rollins in a movie biopic within this one. This part of the film, shot to mimic 1960s photos of Dylan, which inspired this, follows Clark, as he romances a French girl whom he meets on the set of his movie, as well as the aftermath as both realize the relationship won't work. It's blue in its appearance and somehow that all the more accentuates the melancholy that hangs over this section, the loss and the heartbreak.
It's not as pretentious or as showy as the final section featuring Cate Blanchett who plays Jude Quinn, a curiosity that shocks his fans at a folk festival when he plays a loud electric guitar with his band. The backlash as the fans feel like he's selling out invokes the attention of the press who constantly grill Quinn to explain. However, Blanchett as Jude Quinn feels like she just breezed into a Fellini film. At times, it's reminiscent of the Italian post neorealist. At other times, it's more like an Andy Warhol, underground indie film. To the rest of the times, it's copying the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night." It's probably the most annoying part of the movie.
Quinn's fascination with Allen Ginsberg and the Beatnik movement does nothing but communicate that Quinn and Bob Dylan by proxy didn't care too much about people in the world. His disregard for the people around him becomes increasingly obvious. There's an arrogance and a standoffishness that garners no sympathy as the movie goes on.
The music is, of course great, but the film is contradiction and chaos. There's nothing really coherent. It's too metaphorical.
Two Stars out of Five
Rated R for language, some sexuality and nudity
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 mins.