A simple twist of Fate
Thinly disguised as a grizzled rock old-timer named Jack Fate, Bob Dylan plays off his own legend in "Masked and Anonymous," which would be a worthwhile drama even if it weren't a star vehicle.
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
Ah, the reverence.
It's the first thing you notice about "Masked and Anonymous." You can almost smell it. It hits you harder than a rocket-propelled grenade as a faceless nation pockmarked by counterrevolution blasts forth upon a myriad of television screens while Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages" plays, in Japanese, on the soundtrack.
|MASKED AND ANONYMOUS|
|Directed by: Larry Charles.|
Written by: Larry Charles, Bob Dylan.
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Pen四ope Cruz, Bob Dylan, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Steven Bauer, Bruce Dern, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Cheech Marin, Chris Penn, Giovanni Ribisi, Mickey Rourke.
Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
Bang! We're in. This is heady stuff already. And the times, they are a changin'.
"Masked and Anonymous" is a film starring Dylan (posing as a laconic shadow of his former self, legendary rocker Jack Fate), co-written by Dylan (as Sergei Petrov as he's wont to be credited), and pretty much about Dylan, since once one's Fate is decided director Larry Charles cranks up the hero worship one hundredfold.
Musicians crossing that great divide between music and film (and vice-versa) are commonplace, but not when it comes to this cultural icon. Dylan's appearances in front of camera have been few and far between, so chalk one up to Charles (a former TV writer "Seinfeld," "Mad About You," "Curb Your Enthusiasm") for sticking the shy, raspy-throated singer-songwriter front and center. Dylan is rarely photographed from less than a foot away in "Masked and Anonymous," his graveled and weary-looking visage resembling something you might stumble across atop Mount Rushmore.|
Likewise the musical numbers, when Fate's band revs up the ante for a dubious benefit concert for medical relief (promoted by the flamboyant pairing of John Goodman's Uncle Sweetheart and Jessica Lange's Nina Veronica), are recorded at a much louder volume than everything else in the picture.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing (or amazingly huge) cast. I haven't seen this many name performers assembled in one place since Kinka Usher's "Mystery Men." Clearly the word on the street was "we're shooting a Bob Dylan movie" and anybody who's anybody wanted in on that action. Anybody that includes a main cast (alphabetized in the hubris-avoiding end credits) of performers with significant roles (the aforementioned Goodman and Lange, Jeff Bridges as a sleazeball reporter, Pen四ope Cruz as his timid girlfriend with a 333 tattoo, Luke Wilson in snakeskin) and "featuring" Angela Bassett, Chris Penn, Christian Slater, Mickey Rourke, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Bruce Dern, Cheech Marin, Giovanni Ribisi, and Fred Ward, all seemingly content to show up and grovel for scale in a scene or two.
What's gratifying about the film, however, is that there's actually more to it than all this deference would suggest. Dylan's certainly in the film a lot, mumbling and grumbling his insistent deadpan, every bit the non-actor playing a cowboy junkie who's sad and forlorn yet oddly sweet. I, for one, could not understand half of what Dylan was saying but it didn't seem to matter, much like when I could hear what he was saying. (A fan explained this as the Dylan mystique. She could listen to a song of his, not be able to make out half the lyrics, yet still be moved to tears. "That's the power of Bob.")|
"Masked and Anonymous" plops our seminal hero down in a volatile police state, an exquisitely crafted decaying dictatorship where a president lies dying and armed and dangerous guards are as much a part of the bombed out cityscapes as the graffiti and scattered World News Reports. It could be Cuba, Guadalajara, or someplace north of the 38th parallel but the film keeps everything beautifully anonymous, replacing geographical reference points with political finger pointing.
Equally intriguing is the writing (taking Dylan's lead, co-writer Charles uses the pseudonym Rene Fontaine). The dialogue flip-flops between overwritten pretentiousness by way of preposterousness while busting forth with wry observations on the price of fame. It should be annoying as hell but it isn't. "Masked and Anonymous," which brims with wit, gravity, and ambiguousness (not to mention star power), is a vanity project to be sure. But for much of the time it's a fascinating one . . . and you don't even have to be a Bob Dylan fan in order to enjoy it.
|SEPTEMBER 10, 2003|
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