Cate Blanchett's Don't Look Back-era Dylan (they actually partially-recreate some of the scenes from that '60s documentary) weaves through the film, holding the rest of the characterisations and stories together - she's the only one to attempt any kind of straightforward physical impersonation. And it's a stunning impersonation. She deserves at least an Oscar nomination for it. She's got the edginess, the charisma, the desperation and actually makes her face change to look like his. One of my companions, a Dylan fan who'd somehow managed not to hear about her role, never realised who it was.
The black child actor Marcus Carl Franklin was also extraordinary as the young train-hopping Dylan: an incredible voice and presence - I think we'll be seeing a lot of him in future. Ben Whishaw as the sad cynical young poet was very compelling, and spot-on for his role of occasional commentator; Richard Gere was a very cuddly outlaw-hero and Bruce Greenwood was eerily good as the critic/manager targeted in the song "Mr Jones".
I was less impressed by Heath Ledger as the lover/husband aspect of Dylan (he could have been anyone in any romantic melodrama, I thought); and Christian Bale, brought on whenever the earnest side came out (early protest songs, later Christian whinges), was frankly tedious but mercifully brief. I suppose someone's got to do it.
The pacing was splendid: it was never boring, but there was lots of visual space (trees, lights, wide open train-landscapes) in which to process things, more like a continental film than standard Hollywood. The sinister backdrop of '60s politics, Vietnam etc, was beautifully understated, too: menacing and real, it peeked out through news broadcasts and papers, providing context without wrenching away the story.
I have quite a literal mind and was prepared to be frustrated at the lack of reality, coherence etc, but I was rapidly convinced that this is a really clever way to make something interesting about someone extraordinarily famous. Otherwise it could have been merely a reiteration of facts everyone knows already, or, if they'd made a straight film with even the incomparable Blanchett as the only actor, it couldn't have been much more than an exercise in spotting the difference between the present actor and the past reality.
I went with two normal people and three rabid Dylan fans, and we all loved it (with some reservations on the part of the Dyan extremist, but even he was quite pleased by the choice of track right at the end). If you can't stand Dylan's voice (it's an acquired taste), then pull yourself together and get out of the kitchen. If you're at all favourably disposed towards his stuff, then this is an unmissable film.