April 15, 2008 -- This is a very enigmatic film and it is certainly not for all tastes. For one thing, you need to be an expert on everything about the Pulitzer Prize-winning singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in order to make much sense out of this strange film. I know quite a bit about him, being a longtime fan of Dylan's, but even so, a lot of scenes had me scratching my head in a vain search for relevance. Billy the Kid (Played by Richard Gere of “The Hoax”) is in the film, rather than John Wesley Harding, which would have made more sense to me. I don't know if Billy the Kid was ever a friend to the poor, but I heard he traveled with a gun in every hand. Not in this film, though. I guess that Billy the Kid is in the movie because Bob Dylan once had a bit part in a Sam Peckinpah movie called Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and wrote songs for that film, too, including one of his best, “Knockin' on Heaven's Door.”
The gist of this film is that we are all different people at different times of our lives. We are even different people from one day to the next. Our minds change. Our bodies change. No man is one thing all the time to all people. Bob Dylan has worn a lot of hats in his day. His musical styles have changed over the years. There was the celebrated switch from protest-oriented acoustic folk music to electric pop music, which angered some of his fans. Through all of his changes, Dylan has refused all labels: poet, protest singer, the voice of the Baby Boom generation, folk singer, rock star, Christian music singer, country singer, rebel, outlaw. Truth be told, none of these labels fit anyway. This is how we get to the novel idea of using four different actors and one actress (Cate Blanchett of “Notes on a Scandal”) to play the different faces of Bob Dylan. Others playing Bob Dylan in the film include Marcus Carl Franklin (“Lackawanna Blues”) who plays Dylan as a youngster, going under the name of Woody Guthrie. Ben Whishaw of “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” plays another Dylan alter ego named Arthur Rimbaud. Another alter ego named Jack Rollins is played by Christian Bale of “3:10 to Yuma.” Another, named Robbie Clark, is played by Heath Ledger of “Brokeback Mountain.”
The film dances all over the early life and career of Bob Dylan and it even includes a Dylan death scene of sorts. The timeline is fractured and at times it seems these different Dylan personas split off from the rest of his life, branching off into lives of their own. The oddest scene in the film has Billy the Kid standing up to some ruthless developers in a small town inhabited not only by people from some alternate timeline but exotic animals such as giraffes and ostriches. Billy the Kid escapes and hops a freight train box car, ending up with one of Dylan's early guitars. Maybe he is another aspect of Dylan.
Perhaps what is most realistic thing about this movie are the showdowns between Dylan and the press. The press, it seems was always trying to pigeonhole Dylan and he refused to be pigeonholed. Some of the more memorable face-offs are between Dylan and a broadcast talking head named Keenan Jones (played by Bruce Greenwood of “Deja Vu” who also plays Pat Garrett in the film). Dylan has an interesting way of answering questions with either more questions, or answers which are surreal. This film is a reflection of the enigma which is Dylan. He has refused to be categorized all of his life and this film continues that tradition. This film is not particularly entertaining or enlightening, but it is slow-moving and long. It also has some excellent music in it, by you know who. It was great to see Richie Havens playing his guitar on the porch with Woodie Guthrie all these long years after Woodstock. This film rates a C.
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