walk the line (2005)
Walk the Line, in case you haven't noticed, is the third movie I've seen this week and it also happens to be the third biography movie I've seen this week. It started off great with Good Night and Good Luck, took a step down with Capote, and now takes another step down with Walk the Line. Either the movies are getting worse or I'm just getting sick of portraits of men's lives, who knows. However, the trend is firmly in place; if you want a shot at the Oscars, just find a great guy and make a movie about his life. That was the thinking behind such recent films as Ray, The Aviator, and Cinderella Man. Walk the Line joins those ranks. It's far from a bad movie, don't let all this talk fool you; it's quite good, the film simply lacks the stand-out moments needed to distinguish it from all the rest.
However, it does have alot going for it: mainly Jaoquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Once again, the stars of the film deserve their title, because the two most definitely steal the show. This year's best actor category is getting awful crowded, it's the best picture slot that's looking pretty vacant. Phoenix's rendition of Johnny Cash is spot-on, as is Witherspoon's take on his second wife, June Carter. It's their romance that's the main focus of the picture and it was a good thing to focus on. The film dances around a whole lot of bio-pic cliches and thankfully sidesteps most of them. The film begins when Cash is a just a kid living on a farm. His father is an angry alcoholic and little Johnny (or J.R. as they all call him) spends every waking second with his older brother, who is also his best friend. He admires his brother and looks up to him in every way, hoping to one day be able to memorize the Bible as well as he has. Quick, let's play a little game here, can anyone out there guess what happens to Johnny's brother? Thankfully the movie sidesteps the tired and horrifically overused plot line of Cash's recurring guilt and feeling responsible for what happened and yadda yadda yadda; the incident is only mentioned once or twice again in the whole film. Now, I understand that this is a true story, and if that's what really happened then that's what really happened. Personally, I would have left it out of the movie, we saw it last year in Ray, no need to see it again. but whatever. Cash grows up as we jet through his early life in the air force and getting married and having children in about 10 minutes or so. There are many scenes that are great; Cash getting his first record deal is one of the best moments of the entire thing, mostly due to Phoenix. You can see the excitement in his eyes and the shaky amazement in his voice when he's realizes what's happened; it's a performance that picks you up and sweeps you along with him. On his first big tour he meets one of his favorite singers, a woman he's listened to since childhood; June Carter. The chemistry between Witherspoon and Phoenix is apparent from the moment they appear on screen together, their first meeting is incredibley natural and one of the movie's standout scenes. There's no slow motion Witherspoon walking in a door with sappy music blaring in the background, it feels real. From there on the relationship they share and Cash's drug addiction are the focus of the film. That's really where the film goes right, it's a very small story in terms of scope, telling of Cash's own rise, fall, and rise; not musically or financially, but personally.
Credit for the best part of the movie cannot go to the film's producers at all; the best part of the film is the music. Cash's music is just genuinly infectuous. Your toe taps, your head bobs, and I swear to god I almost slapped my knee. I'm not gonna lie, I just downloaded 7 Cash songs and I'm listening to them right now, they're great. The only scene of him actually composing any of this music is a great little moment and stays away from any of the cheesiness that plagued scenes from films like 8 mile where the artist comes up with their famous song lyrics. The film was capably shot, but nothing too stand-out. Mangold definitely knows how to shoot a performance though, and there are plenty of them in the film. .... in fact, I think every other scene was probably Cash performing on stage. However, they were exciting, so there's no complaints there. It was just fun to watch Phoenix and Witherspoon together onscreen. Even when their characters, especially Cash, are doing despicable things, you can't help but feel for them, and you never once truly hold it against Cash for what he's doing. As June's mother says "he's just mixed up". The story was simply missing something, something to give the film its own identity. I feel there was more that could have been done to capture the man in black. In short, the movie hit all of its notes nicely, but never really felt like it was writing its own tune. My favorite scene in the movie involved a producer telling Cash to sing a song, he says that if Cash were laying dying and had only enough time left in his life to sing one song, what song would he sing? Well, most people only get one shot at having a movie made about their life, and what I'm asking is, was this really all there was to say? Maybe. but the songs I'm listening to right now suggest otherwise. They contain a depth coming from a man with not just alot going on in the world around him, but alot going on inside of his head. I would have liked to see some of that on the screen, we never truly got inside Cash's head, we never got to know the man inside, never were privy to his thoughts. Of course, maybe there wasn't much in the way of thoughts in his head because he was coked out for half of the movie, but you know what I mean.
The movie is still a fine piece of work, and I'm sure it will be mentioned quite a few times in the coming awards season. Once again I'll say that I saw nothing wrong with what was on screen, I just wanted more. Not more in the sense of length, as the film could have been cut down alot, but just some more depth. My hats off to the two leads for carrying the film. I expected good things from Phoenix, but Witherspoon surprised me. Maybe she should take a break from making Legally Blond sequels and do some more real roles in the future, it might work out for her. You could spend your time better, you could spend your time worse; see the movie is you're a Cash fan, the music alone is worth the price of admission.