by Matt Smith
The Komplete Val Kilmography (2003-2012) is a twice weekly column that will run through the summer. I will be viewing and writing about each film Val Kilmer appeared in (as long as I can track down a copy of it) in the past decade.
Starring Bob Dylan as the Dylan surrogate Jack Fate, a legend now relegated to anonymity, Masked and Anonymous sounds like the perfect pitch. Fate is the lone star who has signed on to headline a concert in a United States on the brink of revolution. It has an all-star cast, including John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Bruce Dern, Cheech Marin, and the actor whose fault it is I’m even writing about this film, Val Kilmer. It was co-written by Dylan and director Larry Charles, who is more well known as a writer for Seinfeld and producer of Curb Your Enthusiasm and for directing all of Sascha Baron Cohen’s movies to date.
That all sounds terrific. Unfortunately, the film’s an utter mess with some interesting moments. The story is assembled via what are essentially tableux, and is heavy with poeticism. The actors are used as little more than figures acting out parts of Dylan-esque scenarios as would crop up in one of his songs, and it doesn’t work. The effect of a Dylan track, when executed at the top of his game – something he occasionally still pulls off – can be transcendental, but if you pick it apart and envision it as a workable, living evocation of the world around us, it can fall apart easily.
Which is to say, I get what Dylan and Charles were going for, but it’s executed terribly, played too straight, and contains only brief moments of anything resembling life. Fortunately, these moments feature at least the main reasons anyone would be watching this film in the first place: Dylan is compelling when he’s on stage and is worth seeing in this context on some level for die hard fans. And, for the purposes of our little series, Val Kilmer’s role as “animal wrangler,” is one of the odder turns from the very large and very recognizable cast. This is not to say that his role is any good, or that I even understand half of what he’s rambling on about, but Kilmer puts his best foot forward and rolls with the craziness he’s been given.
He is featured in a scene with Jack Fate in which he discusses humanity and its overall meaninglessness, especially in relation to the animals who go about their lives totally unconscious of their own existence. They simply are, and that’s beautiful. Self-awareness is one of the ruins of mankind. I guess my own sensibilities lie in that realm, because this was one of the only tableux I was interested in. And honestly, it wasn’t even that Kilmer was the guy doling out the philosophy.
But I digress. The final verdict on Masked & Anonymous is that there’s a reason most of us haven’t seen it: it’s nearly an unwatchable mess. See it if you’re a Dylan completist – he is magnetic on stage in this movie – but give it a pass if you’re not. There’s a great movie starring Dylan as himself to be made somewhere, but this sure isn’t it.