By Kasey Schiedeck | Images property of 20th Century Fox
Walk the Line
Joaquin phoenix sure had his work cut out for him with this one. Playing a figure as daunting as Johnny Cash was surely a feat. But he pulls it off admirably with a dead-on performance that is sure to get an Oscar nod.
Walk the Line Movie Review
“Walk the Line” covers the middle years of the legendary rockabilly-country superstar with special emphasis on his drug use and his unfettering love of a woman for over 40 years. James Mangold directed the film, working from a script he co-wrote with Gill Dennis. His intensity for the project shines through in a handful of deeply profound and provocative scenes that characterize a man who just wanted to sing some songs about the regular people he admired.
Cash grew up in a cotton picking family in rural Arkansas. Deeply troubled by the loss of his brother, and more deeply traumatized when his father (Robert Patrick) blasted God for “killing off the wrong child,” he entered the army in his teens and went off to Germany. There he wrote some of his most famous ballads before returning and settling in Memphis where he ambled around looking to become a singer.
It was in a Memphis studio that he cut his first song for Sun Record’s Sam Phillips (“Cry, Cry, Cry”) that catapulted him to his first stage of success. During this time he met and fell in love with June Carter, daughter of Mother Maybelle Carter, of the infamous Carter Family Band. June was raised on music and traveled with her family for most of her life. She’s the funny one she says, because she can’t sing like her siblings.
Johnny and June begin a quiet love affair for the next ten years, both married to other people at the time of their acquaintance. They tour and duet together regularly but are interfered with Johnny’s drug trouble, law trouble, and outlandish ways in general. There is an obvious fire among the two and both actors aim effortlessly for a perfect portrayal of such.
Walk the Line
Cash’s plummet into pill abuse and the never-ending aid he received from a woman who loved him in spite of everything is the basis of the film as expected. The film meanders for a while during Cash’s lowest point and ends abruptly with his famous proposal onstage, but we get a clear, honest, and heart-wrenching at times account of this man’s life. Cash was serene at heart but wild when high and the film cuts him no slack. The loneliness of life on the road and his own troubles with his father no doubt pushed him to release in the pills that set him free.
The songs in Walk the Line are mostly Cash’s greatest hits. His infamous “Folsom Prison Blues” at the prison itself, and the title song “Walk the Line” dominate. We also get a taste of Carter and Cash together as being onstage together was about the only time they got alone together before their marriage. T. Bone Burnett, executive music producer of the smash “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack, is back again with “Walk The Line.” It is common knowledge now that Phoenix and costar Reese Witherspoon trained for months to learn to sing and play their respective instruments. Both pull it off splendidly in a new kind of fashion for biopic films.
Phoenix recently told reporters that the greatest effect of the film has been the praise he’s received from those who knew Cash the best. These folks make a brief appearance in the film—Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis who toured with Cash for a while in the 50’s. Mangold shied away from the famous faces for a good reason. His movie is about one man and one man only—the very Man In Black.
A 20th Century Fox Release
Directed By James Mangold
Written By James Mangold and Gill Dennis
Johnny Cash: Joaquin Phoenix
June Carter: Reese Witherspoon
Ray Cash: Robert Patrick
Vivianne Cash: Ginnifer Goodwin
Carrie Cash: Shelby Lynne
Larry Bagby: Larry Bagby III
Elvis Presley: Tyler Hilton
Jerry Lee Lewis: Waylon Payne
Waylon Jennings: Shooter Jennings
J.R. Cash: Ridge Canipe