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Musical biopics usually get a bad rap and this film is one of the main influences on the parody film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) which makes it partially responsible for abominations like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). This film does manage to, at moments, rise above the conventions of the genre it is working in however as the actors give spirited performances and the musical numbers are actually impressive. Director James Mangold is possibly more known now for his work on Logan (2017) and Knight and Day (2010) but he does a decent job here at piecing together a coherent story. I don't think that this is one of the best films of the 2000s or even 2005 but it may be one of the best traditional music biopics ever released.
Johnny Cash, Joaquin Phoenix, had a difficult childhood as his brother died in a horrific accident and he was distant from his father who viewed him as a failure. He becomes a successful musician after leaving the army, marrying his childhood sweetheart Vivian, Ginnifer Goodwin, and discovering he can play the guitar well. His success comes at a cost as he and Vivian become estranged and his attempts to begin an affair with June Carter, Reese Witherspoon, are largely unsuccessful due to his addiction to pills and her Christian guilt. He spirals out of control but is able to get back on his feet after divorcing Vivian and beginning a relationship with June while he goes through rehabilitation.
The moments in the film that make you cringe often come at the points in which Cash is inspired to write a song or Carter unleashes some of her humor onstage. When she tells him "You can't walk that line" we know exactly what's coming and we wish that there was at least one scene in which a song was written in a way that felt at least slightly realistic. Carter's jokes aren't all that funny and although they are meant to make us like her they make they make me think the screenwriter was either doing a poor job of conveying the wit that the real Carter supposedly had or that Carter herself was not particularly funny. Were these moments to be taken out the film would be missing some essential elements as we do need to engage with Cash's music and see what made him fall in love with Carter but I wish these things had been done with more grace.
As for the performances they are just OK. Witherspoon does not match Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter or even Jessica Lange in Sweet Dreams (1985) but her Southern twang and sharp features are enough to get her along. I would have given Best Actress to Charlize Theron in North Country (2005) who is doing a lot more with a unique role than Witherspoon does with her paint my numbers performance. Phoenix fares slightly better as Cash but his self destructive artist who wants to be better for the woman he loves act has been done better on screen by Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies (1983). All of the supporting players feel like they could have dropped in from filming a Hallmark TV movie and their alarm at every action either Cash or Carter takes makes it hard to believe them as real people.
The best parts of the film come when Cash and/or Carter are performing onstage as the songs are great and Phoenix and Witherspoon are actually decent musical performers. We get to see all of the classics get played and Phoenix's assured performance up on stage convinces us of the character and his talents. This is also where the chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon is most palpable as they have a nice rapport and the proposal scene is arguably the best five minutes in the film alone.
This is a passable film but it doesn't reach the heights of other films about musicians like Bird (1988) and Georgia (1995). I would say that you should watch other biopics about musicians before seeing this one but there are not many that I would recommend so I suppose I am left saying that this is one of the best in the genre.
Very good movie awsome story line.
Best movie ever, beats Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman.
A mesmerizing depiction of a country legend.
James Mangold's biopic on Johnny Cash, Walk the Line (2005) is a completely engaging piece of art. I'm not even a huge country music fan, though I deeply respect Johnny Cash, and I was totally enamored by Walk the Line. Every second is engrossing as a dramatic picture with lovely musical numbers.
Walk the Line breathes new life into the legacy of the music icon Johnny Cash. Watching the origins of Folsom Prison Blues, I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire, and other Cash classics is magical. The down to Earth style of Cash is endearing on his own, but witnessed through Walk the Line captures a passionate realism that only Cash conjured through his beautifully harrowing songs. Needless to say, Walk the Line's soundtrack is a greatest hits selection of Johnny Cash songs you need to hear to know the man's career.
Furthermore, James Mangold's direction is stunning. Perfect framing of conversations and encounters between Johnny Cash and his father, June Carter Cash, and other musical figures. Mangold's style is sleek and classic with a nod to gritty realism of Cash's lyrics and lifestyle. The performances are lively and mystifying with an enchanting quality to them. Mangold makes this 2 hour movie feel like a breeze with his careful direction.
Walk the Line features many neat cameos and supporting roles appearing throughout the film. Walk the Line includes Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings, and of course June Carter. It's amazing to think about how many excellent musicians Johnny Cash played with or alongside throughout his miraculous career. Walk the Line brings them all to life with a neat respect and fun personality.
Joaquin Phoenix is the real star here as Johnny Cash himself. His thick accent and gravelly voice fit Cash perfectly. He becomes Cash so much so that you forget you are watching an actor perform his craft. Phoenix has mastered the art of becoming as he transforms into Cash in look, voice, body language, and singing. Phoenix has to be seen to be believed. I appreciate Joaquin Phoenix taking a more subtle nuanced portrayal of Johnny Cash as a tortured miserable man desperate for love. Phoenix contorts his figure and heart for the role with a tender depth and reverence for Cash that is apparent.
Likewise, Reese Witherspoon gives a fantastic performance as June Carter Cash. Her willful spirit and tough attitude meet Reese's sweet personality and heavenly voice. I think her chemistry with Phoenix is palpable as they play lovers so realistically. I think Walk the Line is easily one of Reese Witherspoon's best performances. She walks, talks, and sings like June Carter Cash in a genuinely astonishing role. She is Phoenix' foil as well as love interest as she commands attention and gives the audience everything she has to offer. Witherspoon is simply outstanding!
I should mention Ginnifer Goodwin's portrayal of Johnny Cash's first wife is terrifying and sad. I loved her in Walk the Line. On the other hand, you despise Robert Patrick as Cash's father for his harsh brutal ways. Patrick gives his greatest acting in Walk the Line, hands down.
Watch Walk the Line for its masterful direction from James Mangold alone. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are a bonus to this wonderful film.
Tuesday April 30 2019
Strengths: This movie was up for a lot of awards and it's clear why. Reese Witherspoon (June Carter) steals the show and gives the best film performance of her career. She nails every single scene she's in. It's definitely the best part of the movie. Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash) more than holds his own, also giving a great performance. You can tell he studied enough of Cash, yet managed to put his own spin on it. Their relationship is the driving force behind the movie and their courtship is handled well. Their chemistry is great. Ginnifer Goodwin (Vivian Cash) is also very strong in a supporting role. The music in this is very good. Doing your own singing when you're playing such iconic people is a daunting task but they pull it off well. I also appreciated how much emotion this entire story elicits.
Weaknesses: While I enjoyed the courtship of Johnny and June, their actual relationship didn't work for me. It came across as Johnny being terrible for her and her not really wanting any part of it. There was a similar dynamic in A Star is Born, but it worked way better there. Here, when Johnny keeps asking her to marry him, I just kept wanting her to say no. It's also a paint-by-numbers biopic where nothing really happens to make it special. The two plus hour runtime is a bit rough to get through at points.
Overall: The relationship that drives the movie has severe issues and it hurts the plot. But Witherspoon and Phoenix are so great in the roles that it crosses over into recommended territory.
One of the best performances in cinema history
The formula used for the biopic is very special , I love how the movie had a sense of fun while telling all the good and bad things that happened. Never lost its focus and that is what makes a great movie in my opinion
Joaquin Phoenix portrays Johnny Cash in this film. He had a spouse and worked in the airforce for a while to support her.
This represents a working class man trying to make his way in the world.
He eventually started to work on a music career instead. He played mostly country songs. He met a girl named June Carter. He developed an interest in her.
This represents a man pursuing his dreams. Because of their shared love of country music, June Carter is the perfect match for him.
He left her and got back together with his ex spouse.
This was him being unsure of what he wanted, who he loved.
June was heartbroken.
This was a loss for her
Johnny began to drink alcohol and was single for a while.
This represents him being "down in the dumps".
He met up with June Carter again.
This represents him falling back in love with his soulmate.
I was looking forward to Walk the Line a lot, perhaps too much. This is a film that tells the story of Johnny Cash, and I’ve always enjoyed his music. Sadly, I was disappointed by the film because it was a fairly standard addiction drama, about a recording artist that overindulged in drinking and drugs to the detriment of his personal life. It’s told well with some powerful scenes and great cinematic moments. Unfortunately, I found the connection between Cash and Carter at the heart of the film to be a bit flimsy, perhaps because I didn’t sense much chemistry between Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. I preferred the underlying story of a broken man that was trained to view himself as worthless much more, and I wish the film centered entirely on the relationship with his father. Resolution there had more potential for catharsis than the romantic relationship. I also have some frustration with any romantic relationship that starts as an affair, because it always seems thoroughly unromantic to me and puts a damper on any future attempts to warm my heart. I think Walk the Line could have won me over completely if they had more Johnny Cash music. There are several scenes on stage, and a few songs we get in their entirety, but it seems there are a number of shorter snippets. I would have enjoyed it more if there was a tie between plot details and the songs that accompanied them, but they didn’t go that way either. And, to be honest, Phoenix doesn’t have the same commanding bass sound that makes Cash special. There was always enough to keep me engaged in this film, but never enough to get me excited about what I was watching. That’s a shame because the actors all did a good job, the director had a vision that was impactful, and there are enough twists and turns in the true story to make a great film. But choices were made that didn’t click for me and set this apart from other films that tackle similar topics. I wonder if my expectations were elevated too high. Luckily, I already own a copy of Walk the Line, so I will watch it again sometime and it might impress me more with adjusted expectations.