Everyone sinks.

MASKED AND ANONYMOUS

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                Sony Pictures Classics has been responsible for bringing some of the year’s best movies to the screen.  Unfortunately they have now brought out one of the year’s worst.  “Masked and Anonymous” is terrible, and the reasons for that are transparent and irritating.

                Bob Dylan has written some of the world’s finest folk music.  His protest songs have moved and motivated several generations.  It is a dangerous step for a songwriter of Dylan’s stature to take to the screen in the central role of a movie intended as a metaphor, a wrap-up of sorts for the philosophy delivered so fervently in his songs.  He has diminished himself by looking extremely silly in this pretentious piece of overkill.

An elfin wooden stick figure, Dylan makes the arrogant assumption that he can carry the movie without changing his expression.   The words slip out through stiff lips.  “You’re a chemist who invents a new drug and doesn’t care about the side effects,” is one of the profundities that must also be blamed on screenwriters Sergei Petrov and Rene Fontaine.  Sprinkling dollops of senseless dialogue to the cast, these writers apparently tried to give each actor a chance to build his character.  Instead, everyone sinks.

Let’s back up.  I risk making the assumption that the nameless country featured here is a metaphorical America thrown by its own flaws into the chaos of revolution.  We watch peasants, armed rebels, and refugees living in a dark silence punctuated by gunfire.  Everything Dylan has condemned in the past in our commercial, materialistic, pop culture has rendered citizens senseless.

A phony, spineless promoter under threat by faceless opponents, is mounting a concert featuring the only musician they could get:  an old timer, long forgotten and now in jail.  Why is he in jail?  We don’t know.  In a chance encounter on a bus, Dylan’s character listens to a young man’s confusion.  He fought for the rebels and, when he realized they were corrupt, fought for the government.  It is said, with surprise, that these people don’t want to put their lives on the line for a cause they don’t understand. Who wrote that line? 

It would seem the all -star cast jumped at the chance to work with Bob Dylan without understanding what they were getting into.  Jessica Lange is notable for playing an underwritten role just right.  Jeff Bridges and John Goodman try their best with embarrassing stuff, and the youngsters like Penelope Cruz and Luke Wilson float through the mess like corks bobbing in the sea. 

If the message is that Americans, betrayed by power, have sunk into the babbling craziness of liquor soaked lives, the crazies are everywhere, moaning about lost values that remain unarticulated.  The movie is excruciatingly self-righteous.  Only when a little girl sings a lovely version of  “The Times They are a’Changing,” are we reminded of Bob Dylan’s past.  If only he had continued to move us with song.  He has given up on us too soon.

 


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