WALK THE LINE
Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) grew up on an Arkansas cotton farm, a childhood marred by a tragedy that killed his older brother Jack (Lucas Till), and a father who blamed him for it and never saw anything worthwhile in him. In the mid 50s, his musical urges led him to write and sing; during an impromptu session at the soon to be famous Sun Recording Studios, finding his own unique voice - in every sense - made him a huge star in due course, working alongside other greats of the time like Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton), Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Payne), Waylon Jennings (Shooter Jennings) and Roy Orbison (Jonathan Rice). But along the way, he had a troubled and ultimately broken marriage with Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), an almost deadly affair with booze and pills, and a long romance with fellow singer June Carter (Reese Witherspoon).
Review by Louise Keller:
The beat starts from the very beginning - that pounding beat, signalling the music that was so indicative of everything Johnny Cash represented. Based on Cash's own autobiography 'The Man in Black', James Mangold's (Girl Interrupted, Kate & Leopold) film focuses heavily on the love affair between Cash and June Carter and the pivotal role this strong woman plays in his life. Walk The Line shares some similarities with Ray, the Ray Charles' autobiography, in that the film begins by depicting a childhood trauma that impacts greatly on Cash's life. While it may not be in the same league as Ray, there are potent moments and the fact that both Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon sing the Cash/Carter songs, adds a particular resonance.
It takes a while to be convinced that Phoenix is Cash (the screenplay skips over much of the early years when he was an unsuccessful door-to-door salesman), but the turning point for me is the moment when he storms on stage high on amphetamines. His marriage is in tatters and it is clear that he is simply obsessed by Carter, the pretty country singer who works on her comedy because she is not convinced that her voice is anything special. Their relationship is played out on stage in front of an adulating audience, and at one stage, Carter tells Cash point blank that is the only place where she will speak to him. With determination and great strength, she sees Cash through the dark hours of his drug dependency and addiction, allowing him his 'second chance'.
The climactic scene in Folson prison, when Cash makes a live recording in front of hundreds of prisoners is moving, but far too short, and many moments feel as though they have been squeezed in order to document the facts. Notably Phoenix and Witherspoon are vocally impressive as they capture, not only an essence of Cash and Carter's vocals, but the crux of their emotional being.
Walk The Line is a great love story. It may not completely satisfy as a musical tribute to the great Johnny Cash, but it leaves you with a strong sense of the man, his rebellion and the tangible bond he shared with the woman he loved.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The stories of the famous always have a special appeal, even though they are no more extraordinary than many stories of the poor and unknown. Musos, from Mozart to Johnny Cash, are an especially troublesome lot in life (but perhaps no more so than painters, writers and filmmakers), whose lives seem crammed with extreme experiences. And fame.
Having Cash's own autobiographies to work from, the filmmakers have been able to piece together a largely reliable picture of the man, even though the film covers less than 15 years of his life (not counting the opening scenes of him at 12). But I don't feel quite satisfied that this film has given us the real Johnny Cash, and perhaps the biggest reason is that to me, Joaquin Phoenix is not Johnny Cash. He is a very good actor and he does a great singing job, but he doesn't match my mental image of Cash.
There is another issue that niggles me: the episodic structure of he film looks exactly like a screenplay plucked from a book that could not be tamed. Even so, it runs over two hours. I don't expect a rich life to be condensed to two hours, but I do expect a good story. Johnny Cash is a good story, but this film doesn't really do it justice. There are some wonderful moments, sure enough; the life changing moment in the tiny, low rent Sun studio when Cash is told that the song he has presented as an audition piece is a piece of crap. In desperation, he offers something of his own - exactly what he should have done.
This is the time that other great rock stars were just emerging, wannabes like him: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and others. It's a fascinating moment in music history, and I feel cheated of it. Passing each other backstage and in dreary halls, we are teased with the musical revolution but never engaged by it.
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WALK THE LINE (M)
CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne
PRODUCER: James Keach, Cathy Konrad
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
SCRIPT: James Mangold, Gill Dennis (book by Johnny Cash)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Phaedon Papamichael
EDITOR: Michael McCusker
MUSIC: T-Bone Burnett, Johnny Cash
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David J. Bomba
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 2, 2006