As much as I can say that "I'm Not There" is a gimmick, I can say that the movie manages to be a hypnotic, flawed, occasionally dazzling and alays imaginative picture from director Todd Haynes ("Safe"). The gimmick in question is the fact that the picture has six different actors playing different characters that are all supposed to represent Bob Dylan at different phases of his life.
Dylan is never mentioned by name, but it is clearly the intention, and we get a soundtrack full of Dylan covers (authorized by Dylan, surprisingly - I have to imagine that a fair amount of the movie's budget went towards music rights) that are fantastic enough to make many viewers likely want to seek out the soundtrack.
The film doesn't really have anything resembling a story and the film's loose structure will be frustrating to some viewers and enjoyable to others. Despite the fractured, episodic structure (maybe Haynes has started a new trend, "collage cinema"), the film does manage to have a reasonably good flow to it and feels like the hazy memories of many were sown together with tender care, with different film stocks and styles in the different segments.
The changes in visual style could have been jarring, but the sharp changes in style actually manage to work, thanks to the film's stunning cinematography from Edward Lachman ("Far From Heaven") and skilled editing by Jay Rabinowitz ("Night on Earth"). 135 minutes is a touch long for this kind of a film, and while I was never bored, I would say that two hours even would have tightened the film up nicely.
The different actors who play these representations of Dylan do so particularly well, although a few highlights do emerge. Christian Bale, who wouldn't strike me as the first choice to play Dylan, is pretty entertaining in one of the smaller segments. Marcus Carl Franklin is also terrific as a young African-American boy named Woody Guthrie and Ledger is also marvelous playing against Charlotte Gainsburg as "Dylan"'s wife.
However, the most surprising of the bunch is, of course, Cate Blanchett, who manages to get Dylan down so well it's remarkable. The least interesting would probably be Gere, whose segment as Billy the Kid is rather dull, although it's not the fault of Gere's satisfactory performance. Still, despite Gere's performance not engaging, Haynes has managed to construct a fascinating portrayal of the life of an enigmatic legend in different points of his life.
VIDEO: "I'm Not There" is presented by Genius Products in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film's wide variety of colors, film stocks and styles in general. Despite the varying looks of the picture, the presentation all looks uniformly quite good. Sharpness and detail are mostly terrific, as the presentation boasts good detail even in the 16mm sequences.
The presentation didn't suffer from any print flaws, but a couple of minor instances of edge enhancement were seen. Colors seemed accurate to the intentional look of the film. Overall, this was a very fine presentation of the material.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't particularly aggressive, nor does it need to be. What it does need to do is present the film's marvelous soundtrack crisply and clearly and that it does. The terrific music is spread nicely across the front soundstage with some minor reinforcement by the surrounds. Audio quality is fine, with natural-sounding dialogue.
EXTRAS: An insightful, detailed commentary from director Todd Haynes is included with the film on the first disc. The first platter also has the option for on-screen lyrics, the option to jump to a song and notes on the film. The second disc offers a weath of additional material, from audition tapes (Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Wishaw) to a touching tribute to Ledger. We also get 6 deleted/alternate scenes, outtakes, an interview with Haynes, "making-of" featurette for the score, Dylanography and premiere footage. We also get a pair of trailers and an unreleased "Subterranean Homesick Blues" trailer.
Final Thoughts: Haynes has managed to construct a fascinating portrayal of the life of an enigmatic legend in different points of his life. It's an ambitious film and while a few stretches aren't as electric as others, the picture still remains a wonderful journey. The DVD offers excellent audio/video quality, as well as a great deal of supplemental features.
The Film B+