4 stars out of 5 (if you're knowledgeable/interested in Bob Dylan)/ 2 stars out of 5 (if you're not)
Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Safe, Far From Heaven) has re-imagined the traditional biopic with this bravura kaleidoscope of Bob Dylan's life. The much-documented structure of I'm Not There consists of seven intertwined segments, each featuring a different actor portraying an aspect of Dylan's life/personality. The end product is impressionistic, scattering connections between events and song lyrics throughout, wonderfully capturing Dylan's mischievousness, misdirection, and intellectual peregrinations. But, as a result, the film demands a certain fluency with Dylan - his life, mannerisms, and writings - to piece together a sense of narrative. I'm Not There is visually sumptuous - not what you'd necessarily expect in a biographic piece - beautifully art-directed and photographed. The cast is uniformly strong, mixing in musicians (Richie Havens, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, My Morning Jacket's Jim James) with acting professionals. Among the Dylans, Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth:The Golden Age, Notes On A Scandal) is Oscar-worthy as the mid-60s version, but she is rivaled by yet another excellent though unheralded performance by Christian Bale (Rescue Dawn, The Prestige). I'm Not There can be maddeningly obscure and opaque, at times seemingly more concerned with arcana, visual style, and apparent film homages than coherence, but I found it fascinating.
[Paul adds: Neal is absolutely correct. All I would add is that it may be a sliding scale; 4 if you know him well, 3 if you know him moderately well, and 2 if you're not knowledgeable and interested.]