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In a fictitious modern day America ravaged by civil war, seedy concert promoter Uncle Sweetheart (John Goodman), along with his sassy TV producer partner Nina Veronica (Jessica Lange), are raising money for medical aid by holding a one-off benefit concert - which they are primarily using to line their own pockets as well as those of the state-run TV network they are working for. Unable to get a big name star for his show, Sweetheart uses his pull to secure the services of ageing visionary rocker Jack Fate (Bob Dylan), who is released from prison to perform.

Review by Craig Miller:
A muddled mess of twisted philosophies, 1960s ideals, weak social satire and Dylan Mythology, Masked and Anonymous is a troubling film experience with absolutely no idea what it wants to be, neither comedy nor drama, neither gripping nor smart.

Written by Larry Charles and Bob Dylan (under the pseudonyms Rene Fontaine and Sergei Petrov respectively), what we have here are the fundamental ideas and philosophies of two men who have taken little time to put their thoughts into any cohesive narrative or structure, using a medium that is horribly unforgiving when it comes to pretension and ego.

Basically this is a Dylan vehicle, a chance for the great man to cinimise (to make cinematic, I know that's not a word but it should be) his own music and put forward his own spin on modern life, and it could have been quite good. The idea seems solid, the cast he and Charles have assembled is full of talent, but in the execution it's a disappointment.

Charles shows little control over the film as director and, apart from the prisoner on a pilgrimage to the concertland, there is a definite lack of story. Dylan goes from scene to scene rarely speaking, just listening, encountering dozens of philosophical characters eager to relay their principles on everything from life, love and mankind, to corruption, religion and government. It's terribly trite.

The characters are criminally underwritten; Jeff Bridges as a "last chance" journalist and Goodman as Uncle Sweetheart the alcoholic concert promoter fare best, but Dylan, the man with the most screen time, can barely muster an interesting look, which is a shame because he has such fascinating appeal.

The one thing Dylan does bring are the tunes and, with the film's score dripping with old Dylan classics and covers, as well as featuring a nice blend of more modern folk/rock, the music is one thing that gets a solid tick in the pro column.

Between the ensemble cast, Larry Charles' exceptional comedic talents (his work on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm as writer/director was wonderful) and Bob Dylan's own enigmatic presence as a musical icon, Masked and Anonymous should have been a complete film experience. Unfortunately what's good on paper doesn't always translate well to the screen, and what we are shown here is not dissimilar to what a random selection of Dylan's own musical poetry offers: plenty of heart, full of ideas but virtually undecipherable.

Published September 16, 2004

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(US, 2003)

CAST: Jeff Bridges, Bob Dylan, John Goodman, Penelope Cruz, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Giovanni Ribisi, Mickey Rourke

DIRECTOR: Larry Charles

SCRIPT: Sergei Petrov & Rene Fontaine (Bob Dylan & Larry Charles)

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 1.85:1, Dolby Digital 5.1


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Village Roadshow

DVD RELEASE: August 5, 2004

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