Feb 09, 2006|
Like a nice long stroll in the country, Walk the Line is stimulating and appealing, although by the end you won’t be able to get that song “Ring of Fire” out of your head.
So Johnny Cash might feel like a bit of a dinosaur in a world dominated by Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, but nonetheless there is still an appeal in the life story of a man who beat the odds of a poverty-stricken childhood to perform with many of the greatest (Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison impressive enough for you?) and who penned some of the most memorable country tunes of all time.
Writer-director James Mangold’s (Girl, Interrupted) film biography follows Cash’s journey from young boy tormented by feelings of worthlessness to man able to overcome his drug addiction and maintain a successful career and stable family life. Underpinning his personal development is his relationship with June Carter Cash (a lovable and outstanding Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde), a household name in her own right who is also battling her own demons. And, impressively, both actors sang every note in the movie themselves.
Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator), who took home the best actor at the Golden Globes last month, provides a truly masterful performance as the legendary Cash capturing his distinctive style and manner. Even just a turn of the head or a cock of the eyebrow evokes Cash in every sense: At no time did we feel that it wasn’t the singer himself on the screen. Phoenix is truly magnificent: he, and the film, deservedly gets critical appraise for his work here. Witherspoon is also stellar playing the southern belle struggling to uphold her own moral code, and is also a best actress winner at the same awards show.
Given that the plot is driven by a classic love story, there is real potential for Walk the Line to be a formulaic film, towing the standard line with mediocre symbolism and exaggerated performances to cash in on an icon’s success. Instead, it’s a compassionate, restrained revelation of Cash’s shortcomings and vulnerabilities that seems realistic and embraces his totality, rather than reducing him to a simplistic caricature.
But let’s get real; this is a movie about country music after all, so it’s long and by no means action-packed. Still, Walk the Line is a well crafted, interesting and stirring insight into one of country’s finest musicians, even if, at times, it moves at the pace of a one-horse town.