"Walk the Line"
Directed by James Mangold ("Copland",
Written by Gill Dennis and James Mangold. Based on the
autobiography of Johnny Cash.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and Robert Patrick.
Release Year: 2005
Review Date: 12/03/05
I couldn't name a single Johnny Cash song
and I really dislike ("hate" would be a bit too strong) Reese
Witherspoon, but I have to admit that the new film "Walk the Line"
is quality stuff. Not blazin' a trail quality stuff--the film
runs the familiar rags-to-riches-to-drugs-to-redemption sequence to
perfection--but it's still a great time at the movies, and in a year
where few films have been great but many have been good, "Walk the
Line" might get the call come Oscar time, certainly for its
performers if not for the overall product.
Joaquin Phoenix stars as Cash, from the age
of about 20 onward, and we ride his life from his upbringing in
Arkansas under a father (Robert Patrick, in the thankless oppressor
role) that treats him rough through his time in the armed
services--behind a desk--and then on the beginnings of a music
career that spanned what seems like a forever. Along the way,
he does tours with little-known performers like Elvis Presley (Tyler
Hilton), Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne) and June Carter
(Witherspoon), a woman that he clicks with right away. Sure,
he's married and he's got a couple of kids, but as we all
know--because the movies tell us so--it's tough being on the road as
a married man, what with all of those pretty girls throwing
themselves at you...you add that into the equation, and you've got a
whole lot of drama (or "Ray",
depending on your point of view).
Obviously, once we establish the Cash
talent, we focus more on the rocky struggle between June and Johnny,
especially his drug addiction, that (very) brief stint in jail, more
touring, more redemption, more blah blah blah. Eventually, we
get to that point where Johnny finally figures it all out, and we
get the predictable end game.
You're right--I didn't like that last
half-hour, and I never like the point where I must watch the famous
star lead delve into those few months or years where they have to
find themselves through losing all their cash or doing crack every
morning or going through the rough divorce...sure, it happened in
real life, but it always takes something away from the cool ride we
experience in the setup of the story. This is the result of
seeing a couple hundred movies a year, but it's also the problem
with these rise-fall-start-to-rise biopics: why not make a
movie where we get just the first few years where everything is
going well? No one has EVER tried it!
But, everything up to that point about "Walk
the Line" is stellar, and it has to start with the two lead
performances. Phoenix has been great before (and should have
won the Oscar he was nominated for in
he has never been this good, from capturing Cash's passion to the
subtle disappointments he shows whenever he is jilted by June to the
thousand-yard stare he gives us whenever he wakes up from another
rough night. You should know that I don't know Johnny Cash
from Bo Diddly, so I have no idea if he captures what most people
know of Cash; that doesn't matter when the movie starts, because as
a movie character, the performance is flat-out cool. And, to
know that both he and Witherspoon did all of their own singing for
this role (my buddy Chi didn't believe it until they showed it to us
in the credits) only adds to the legend. He's a shoo-in for a
nod this year as well.
I think it was Witherspoon that surprised me
most, though; normally, I am reaching for the switchblade whenever
she is onscreen, as this is mostly due to her choices for films
(God-awful only begins to sum up "Sweet Home Alabama",
Blonde"). I originally thought that Witherspoon was going
to be something special after doing "Election" and
Psycho"; since then, she normally takes the big check for the
shitty film, so maybe doing "Walk the Line" will remind her that
it's nice to do something of quality every so often. Of
course, maybe she's doesn't care, but she sure seems to care in this
film, her best work since "Election."
The music is great--I actually envisioned
buying the soundtrack for this film after seeing it--and director
James Mangold gives us plenty of Cash's songs from the late 50s and
60s, plus a number of sequences during Cash's touring shows once he
finally divorced the wife (Ginnifer Goodwin) that he had neglected
for so long. The support is great; there's even a few good
laughs sprinkled throughout. The film does get long in the
tooth late (and drags, as mentioned above), but does have a cool
scene near the end where Cash plays at Folsom Prison in '68 for a
live album recording that is one of the film's best sequences.
Good stuff. We'll see how this plays
out come awards time.
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard