Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Review: Walk The Line

I went and saw Walk the Line. I had not originally intended to go see it in the theatre, though I thought I might rent it when it came out on DVD. Yet my mother and sister were going, and I saw no need to turn down their invitation.

I am not sorry that I went.

The movie will almost certainly be an Oscar contender this year. While I have seen better biopics, I felt throughout the film that a lot of care and hard work went into the making of the film. There was a great amount of respect for the material being presented.

There would have to be.
Johnny Cash was without a doubt a legend. His unique look and even more unique voice were a timeless tribute to the downtrodden, the sinful, and the out and out bad-ass in us all. A poor portrayal of the Man in Black in his life story would have enraged a lot of folks. Luckily, Joaquin Phoenix, as usual, delivers.

I admit I felt some skepticism when I first heard Phoenix was to portray Cash. He looks nothing like him (though who really does), and when I heard he would be doing all of his own singing, I felt even more doubt. Yet the portrayal, as well as the singing, are actually quite convincing. In truth, when you close your eyes, you still know that it is not Johnny Cash. In all fairness though, no one can duplicate Johnny Cash's sound. The best one can do is to recreate the spirit with which he performed songs such as "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues". I felt Phoenix attained this most of the time.

Hands down, however, the best performance in the movie, (and indeed the best performance in any movie I have seen in years) is that of
Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. I have not seen many things from Witherspoon's body of work. (Legally Blonde movies just do not intrigue me). Yet, I feel very safe in saying that she has turned in the performance of her career in this movie. I know even less about June than I do Johnny, (which is not much at all) but from an acting standpoint, she is magnificent. (A word I almost never use to describe actors/actresses of today.) I have never seen possibly predestined love so astutely combined with soul crippling pain. Both were equally necessary to portray a woman obviously in love with a highly self-destructive man, while remaining strong enough to refuse to live inside the maelstrom of Johnny's early career and life choices. Witherspoon nails it, and she alone (along with the great music) is almost enough of a reason to see the film.

I also highly enjoyed a scene in the movie when a then unknown Johnny Cash is told by a record producer that he (Cash) was not believable when he sang. The speech this very small character gives to an auditioning Cash represents one of the finest in the film, and presents advice any entertainer ought to take to heart.

As far as weaknesses of the film, I would say it does tend to run a little too long in the middle, as we see a few too many scenes depicting Cash's personal problems with drugs and alcohol. I would have liked to see more from the life of The Man in Black after he evolved into same. That persona for which Johnny Cash is so famous only truly comes into existence in the final 10 minutes of the film.

I also think it tended to be a bit anecdotal at times. Seeing June yell angrily at Johnny, "You can't walk the line!", followed instantly by a scene wherein Johnny is recording that trademark mega-hit seemed a bit to "bake and serve" for me, even if that is what may have inspired the song. (I have no idea if this is true, or embellishment.)

In the end though, an honest film, with everyone working hard, and mostly everyone shining. Overall, deserving of the accolades it is receiving. Go see it.

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