Walk The Line
Ryan Owen 20/01/2006
The 1950s was an important period for popular music within America. It was
the decade that brought forth the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis,
Johnny Cash, June Carter, Patsy Cline, Bob Dylan and the rest of those innovators that sent the popular music of that era to the stratosphere. From his two autobiographies, this is a chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis.
Walk the Line opens outside Folsom maximum security prison in 1968. As the
camera crawls across the ground, over the prison walls and through the various corridors of the building, we become increasingly aware of a rhythmic rumbling sound. When the camera finally reaches its intended location, we discover the source of the noise. The prisoners of Folsom are all huddled around a makeshift stage; and their clapping and the stamping of their feet threatens to bring the house down as they wait for their hero, Johnny Cash.
As the impatient noise of the prisoners grows, Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) waits
quietly backstage and the viewers also begin to become impatient as we wait for him to perform. But, as Cash fingers a prison saw, we flashback to Arkansas in 1944 and we see the youngster and his growth into a music legend. This is the brilliant opening sequence to James Mangold's tender and
involving biopic of the man in black.
Joaquin Phoenix wears Johnny Cash like a suit. When we hear him play for the
first time we hear that unique booming voice, and the movie explodes into
life. Phoenix channels a man so distinct in appearance and voice to a level
that is beyond admirable, capturing every subtle nuance but also making him
believable as a flawed human being. He's got the baritone voice and the
confident swagger down to a tee. It truly is a remarkable transformation and it's equal to Foxx's Ray Charles without nearly as much caricature. Phoenix
is particularly brilliant, not only in the romantic scenes but in moments
where Cash discusses his brother's early death.
Yet Phoenix may not give the best performance in the film. Reese Witherspoon
takes the role of Cash's lifelong love June Carter and her performance is
simply breathtaking. As soon as she appears she injects a massive jolt of electricity into the film. She brilliantly captures the struggle of a woman who alternately loves hates and fears for Cash; her emotionally complex and stunningly nuanced performance is fantastic to watch. Her role as Carter undoubtedly the zenith of her career and her tangible chemistry with Phoenix gives the film a genuine spark. The phenomenal performances made this film come alive with the astounding verisimilitude of their acting. Their performances are made even more stupendous when it is learnt that Phoenix learned guitar and Witherspoon the auto-harp, and they both sang without the use of lip syncing. This believability lends itself to their relationship together as they convincingly portray two people falling in love in a manner that's sincere and sweet but never cheaply sentimental.
In addition, the film doesn't manipulate the viewers' feelings and there are
no attempts at the predestination of Cash as a superstar or over-glamorisation or over-dramatizion of the events. Most importantly, the musical sequences are electric and his renditions of Get Rhythm, and Cocaine Blues are some of the best music performances in movie history. Walk the Line is everything Ray was not and is possibly the best biopic of recent times. By being deliriously romantic, exhilaratingly entertaining, and profoundly moving, all underlayed by a spectacular soundtrack, it is a two and a half hour tour de force.