"I'm Not There" is in no danger of being overly familiar. Filmmaker Todd Haynes, the guy who made a Karen Carpenter bio using Barbie dolls, takes Dylan and divides him by six.
Heath Ledger plays the not-so-dutiful husband and father and maker of bad movies. Young African-American actor Marcus Carl Franklin plays the rail-riding folk troubadour side of Dylan, and Christian Bale plays Bob in his gospel phase. Cate Blanchett plays the defiant Dylan who goes electric. Richard Gere, as a 19th century Kentuckian, represents Dylan as a defender of rural tradition. There's another guy playing Dylan as a formal poet facing some kind of muggle inquisition, but this is the movie's briefest and least consequential thread.
Blanchett's role is the most pivotal, since it gets to the crux of "I'm Not There" - Dylan's insistence on the right of the artist to do as he pleases, to follow his muse.
Dylan's defiant independence, his will, his need to change, have always been his most admirable, most American traits, and Haynes does an interesting job highlighting and defending them.
My beef with "I'm Not There," which is there for some 130 minutes, is that I felt Haynes made his point in about an hour, and the movie rambles on for another 60 minutes. By the time we reach a bespectacled Gere in Appalachia, I'd decided that five Dylans was plenty for me.
For Dylan fans, though, six may not be enough. Daily News music critic and Dylan fanatic Jon Takiff assures me that the movie is a mother lode of obscure Dylan lyrical references and album cover images, and some aficionados may die in an ecstasy of in-jokes.*
Produced by Christine Vachon, Oren Moverman, directed by Todd Haynes, written by Todd Haynes, Oren Moverman, music by Randall Poster, Jim Dunbar, distributed by Killer Films.