Film Review – Walk the Line
Directed by James MangoldWritten by Gill Dennis and James Mangold
Plot Outline: A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
WALK THE LINE tells the story of music legend Johnny Cash and his journey to becoming a popular country rock icon. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as ‘The Man in Black’ and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter.
The film shows Cash as a young boy growing up in a farm in Arkansas listening to the legendary Carter family on the radio. His father Ray (Robert Patrick in a strong role) is tough on him, but seems to favour his brother Jack who seems likely to become a preacher. Jack dies in a sawmill acident. His father unfairly blames the death on him – “God took the wrong son”. Thereafter he can do no right in his daddy’s eyes, even when he serves his country in the Air Force.
After serving in Germany, cash sets up home with Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) where they have two kids. He is not a very good door-to-door salesman but his music, especially songs he wrote while serving in Germany, impress the legendary Sam Phillips of Sun Records. He goes on tour and develops a stormy relationship with one of his childhood idols, June Carter.
No biopic can ever cover a man’s life. Mangold doesn’t try. He brings out the strong message that ‘love is a burning thing’ and that the love of a good, determined woman can turn a man around from the paths of self-destruction. The performances are very strong from both leads. They even sing all the songs themselves. This comes across well when Phoenix haltingly starts up Folsom Prison Blues – “a song I wrote when I was in the Air Force” – when he first meets Sam Phillips at the Sun studios, only to become more fluent and accomplished as he really gets into it. Wonderful.
Reese Witherspoon is a fine actress. She was superb in the romantic comedy, Sweet Home Alabama and in the two fluffy Legally Blonde films. She’s not blond in Walk the Line but she has reached the peak of her acting career so far. Joaquin Phoenix IS Johnny Cash in this wonderful biopic, but Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash sets this film on fire – a burning ring of fire!
It is one thing to portray a person’s life, with feeling and emotion. Phoenix pulls this off effortlessly. But Witherspoon surpasses even this to make June Carter the central character of this film as the woman who turned Johnny Cash around. After picking up a BAFTA award the other week for this role, she might want to get her acceptance speech ready when the Oscars are handed out.
Joaquin Phoenix – John R CashReese Witherspoon – June CarterGinnifer Goodwin – Vivian CashRobert Patrick – Ray CashDallas Roberts – Sam PhillipsDan John Miller – Luther PerkinsLarry Bagby – Marshall GrantShelby Lynne – Carrie CashTyler Hilton – Elvis PresleyWaylon Payne – Jerry Lee LewisShooter Jennings – Waylon JenningsSandra Ellis Lafferty – Maybelle CarterDan Beene – Ezra CarterClay Steakley – W.S. ‘Fluke’ HollandJohnathan Rice – Roy Orbison.