The film intercuts stories featuring different actors playing characters based on the life or the legend of Bob Dylan. Marcus Carl Franklin, a young black actor, plays a (fictional) version of the 11-year old Dylan, who calls himself "Woody Guthrie" and escapes from a juvenile correction center by hitching a ride on a train, carrying a guitar labeled "This Machine Kills Fascists." Christian Bale plays Jack Rollins, a version of Dylan as a young folk singer with a political conscience, and who later becomes "Pastor John," a version of Dylan the born again Christian, here singing gospel songs in a small town church. Cate Blanchett plays Jude Quinn, a version of Dylan at the height of his fame in the 1960s, when his original fan base was rejecting him as a sell-out. Ben Whishaw plays a version of Dylan as a young rebel who calls himself after the poet Arthur Rimbaud. Heath Ledger plays a character named "Robbie Clark", a fictional Hollywood actor presented as best known for his performance in a film about Jack Rollins (the character played by Bale); he also represents Dylan the divorcé, estranged from his wife Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Richard Gere plays the elderly Dylan as an aging Billy the Kid in a surreal Wild West town, who defeats an even more elderly Pat Garrett (played by Bruce Greenwood).
The storylines are shot in different film stocks and styles. The scenes featuring Woody Guthrie, Robbie Clark and Billy the Kid are in color. The scenes involving Jack Rollins/Pastor John are shot on 16mm color stock, and are framed as a documentary with interviews from people who knew him describing his transformation. Jude Quinn's scenes are in black and white, and use surreal imagery based on those in Federico Fellini's 8½ (1962). Arthur Rimbaud's scenes are shot on very grainy black and white stock.
The sequences with Cate Blanchett are the best and the worst are those with Richard Gere. I will watch any movie about the folk scene in New York's Greenwich Village in the early 1960's.
In the movie, Julianne Moor, plays a Joan Baez type character who is interviewed about the fictional Dylan. In real life Joan Baez helped Dylan in his early years and was his girl friend. In the documentary "No Direction Home" an older Joan Baez is interviewed and this interview I assume was the basis for the fake interviews in "I'm Not There." The movies is not for the average movie goer and only for hard core Dylan Fans. One of the most disappointing things about the movie was the soundtrack. You are better off playing "The Essential Bob Dylan" CD. After watching the movie I re watched my DVD of the Dylan documentary "No Direction Home" which is much better than the movie if you want to learn more about Bob Dylan. I give the movie *** stars out of 5.