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28 November 2005

Walk the Line (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash), Reese Witherspoon (June Carter), Ginnifer Goodwin (Vivian Cash), Robert Patrick (Ray Cash)

Directed by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted)

From IMDB: "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."

I think my husband Keven, who is not the biggest fan of Americana music, went to see this film for two reasons: Joaquin Phoenix and Johnny Cash's cover of Nine Inch Nail's "Hurt." I don't think he actually expected so much country music in it! But there was, and quite a bit. Phoenix and Witherspoon did their own singing, which is pretty bold considering who they portrayed.

The film followed a fairly standard biopic formula: explore (said person)'s origins and any tragedies that shaped (said person)'s childhood, their rise to prominence, mistakes, downfall and conclusion (redemption or death, depending on said person). However, Walk the Line did not attempt to cover Cash's entire life. Instead, the finale is how he found his personal redemption through his love for Jesus and June Carter.

Neither did the movie attempt to present a balanced, multi-faceted portrayal of Cash's life. His perspective is the only one. His first wife, Viv, is passive until she explodes with fury, as if he only noticed her when she was angry with him. Her side of the story is not told. The fear and pain she and their children felt during his darkest years must have been intense, but their voices are silent until his abuse and their resentment boil over and penetrate his drug-addled existence. But seeing as how the script was based on Cash's autobiography, the film never made any claims to being a fair or accurate portrayal. It was his life through his eyes.

The concert scenes were fantastic, especially the onstage chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon and the live concert at Folsom. And I loved the confluence of musical roots on their early tours, when Johnny Cash performed after Jerry Lee Lewis and before Elvis! Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings and Bob Dylan found common ground in these early years before country and rock'n'roll found their separate identities. That energy was palpable and fantastic.

Joaquin Phoenix played Cash like a black hole of fury and loathing, filled with ambition and a humming sort of energy, while Witherspoon was the helium that filled the movie with bubbles and color. She was priceless. Together, their match was not entirely compelling aside from the aforementioned concert scenes. But for fans of their music, this film will resonate as a compelling tribute to a man who never quite forgave himself for his failings and the woman who did, loving him for the rest of their lives.

Anonymous Pacze Moj said...

How is the singing in the film?

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

I thought it was quite good - method singing! Phoenix sounded like a very convincing Cash immitation. Perhaps it wouldn't be so good when played back-to-back with Cash's real music, but within the framework of the movie - where Phoenix's voice is the only one you hear - it was just fine. Not distracting or painful at all! Witherspoon, I think, actually sang better than June Carter did - much more straight-forward and sweet, melodic. I never liked Carter's growling, playful style of roughneck honky-tonk.

Blogger Keven said...

There is a part in the movie where June talks about how she started doing comedy on stage because her singing wasn't so great. Difficult to believe seeing as Reese Witherspoon was so great.


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