Written by Gill Dennis & James Mangold
Directed by James Mangold
Running Time: 2:15
for some language, thematic material
and depiction of drug dependency.
Walk the Line was a decent film filled with a lot of music, but had a rags-to-riches story I've seen done before and was much better when it was called Ray.
John R. Cash was born poor and at an early age lost his older brother. His father always blamed John for the loss and said the Lord took the wrong son. This is something that John would live with the rest of his life. When he finally gets out of the house, he finds love in the arms of Vivian and music. Soon John gets a recording contract and the pitfalls that come with fame. Touring with the likes of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and the King himself, Elvis, John falls into drugs and booze. But he also meets the woman who will become his soul mate: June Carter. Even though he is married with children, John does everything he can to woo June, and their decade long courtship is the heart and soul of Walk the Line. June helps John recover from his addictions and become the legend he is today.
I can't say I'm a Johnny Cash fan. I knew nothing of his life story and beyond the song Ring of Fire and A Boy Named Sue, I didn't know any of his music. That may be part of why I didn't enjoy the movie as much as the rest of the audience did. That being said, from what I do know of Cash and his very unique singing voice, Joaquin Phoenix did a tremendous job singing the Cash songs. Both Phoenix and Witherspoon (along with the rest of the singing actors) all did their own vocals, and in a movie that's probably about 40% music, that's an impressive feat. After watching the movie I don't think I'm going to become a Johnny Cash convert; his music just isn't something that I enjoy listening to, but I can appreciate his talents and I can understand why others would like his music.
The problem I have with Walk the Line comes from the story. I realize the film is based on his life but the story isn't original and beyond having the chance to put his music up on screen, I can't find a reason why this movie needed to be made. He has a hard youth, he becomes a musician, he gets married young and leaves his wife for another woman, he crashes because of addictions, he fights back and records a seminal album, he goes on to become a legend. How many musicians have had that exact story? Unfortunately, if the brilliant Ray hadn't come out such a short time ago, I think Walk the Line would have been more entertaining, but as I sat there watching, I kept thinking, I've seen all this before. And since I don't enjoy Johnny Cash's music, there's nothing holding me to the movie.
Phoenix and Witherspoon do amazing jobs as Johnny Cash and June Carter. It is highly likely both will receive Oscar nominations because of their performances and the pedigree of the movie. From pictures I've seen of the actual Cash and Carter, Phoenix and Witherspoon look a lot like the people they play. Whether or not they inhabit the actual people, like Jamie Foxx did, I can not say, but their performances are what holds the movie together. Phoenix has an odd look and way about him but he is engaging in his style. Witherspoon is one of America's sweethearts but steps out of her romantic comedy zone to deliver a tremendous performance. June is the only person keeping Johnny from completely falling apart, but at the same time, she has her own troubles to deal with. Her life isn't perfect, and here is someone depending on her to keep him sane. How she put up with him for all those years is beyond me, and Witherspoon does a great job showing love but also keeping a distance, not knowing how it will all turn out.
The other problem I had with the story was that this film is being touted as a love story. The romance between Johnny and June and oh how beautiful it is. Well I'm sorry, but while I liked the actors, I found it very hard to have sympathy for a man who marries someone then leaves her and their kids for another woman. In the film, they didn't even show what happened to Vivian; she just disappears. And how can I feel sympathy for a guy who becomes a drug and alcohol addict, because he just wants to fit in with Elvis? And how did Johnny learn to play the guitar?? One second he's leaving the house and joining the military, the next he's looking at guitars, and suddenly he can play? That's a small point, but one that bugged me. And I didn't like the obvious manner in which the script was written. The movie opens with Johnny looking at a circular saw of some kind. A few minutes later, his brother is working with the same saw. Johnny and his brother play with fishing poles by trying to hold them straight up in the palm of their hands. Johnny does the same thing with June later on. Johnny and his brother walk down a dirt road in the middle of farm land. A few minutes later, Johnny is doing the same thing alone. When Johnny goes nuts and destroys a bathroom, the camera becomes handheld and shaky. It's all too obvious. The direction of the movie was very heavy handed. The movie never took a step back and let us see things unfold, it always made sure we knew *exactly* what we were supposed to be looking at.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, Walk the Line wasn't a bad movie, but it wasn't a great one. Were it not for the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, I wouldn't have enjoyed it at all. They managed to rise above a been there/done that story and poor directing to at least make the movie watchable. That being said, if you enjoy Johnny Cash and his music, this is a must-see film. If you're like me and not a fan, then this is a movie that can wait for DVD.
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