Walk The Line - Review
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Co Writer And Director James Mangold; 10 Deleted Scenes; International Theatrical Trailer; Johnny Cash Jukebox; Folsom Cash And The Comeback; Ring Of Fire The Passion Of Johnny And June; Becoming Cash; Becoming Carter; Celebrating The Man In Black The Making Of Walk The Line; Cash And His Faith.
GIVEN the number of reasons why James Mangold’s Oscar-tipped biopic of country icon, Johnny Cash, could have failed, its success feels all the more impressive.
Firstly, the film could have suffered from following so soon after last year’s Ray Charles biopic, Ray – particularly as thematically, the two life stories share many similar traits.
Secondly, given the longevity of Cash’s career and the sheer volume of his achievements, it could have seemed overlong and episodic.
And thirdly, by asking its stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, to do their own singing, it ran the risk of not sounding at all authentic.
Fortunately, Mangold has overcome all of these obstacles to deliver a richly absorbing and emotionally rewarding experience that has placed it firmly in Oscar contention.
His film is based on two books by Cash – Man in Black and Cash: The Autobiography – as well as interviews conducted right up until his death in 2003 and follows the career of the singer from his difficult upbringing in the cotton fields of Arkansas in the ‘40s to his legendary gig at Folsom Prison in 1968.
It’s a warts-and-all biopic, taking in his addiction to amphetamines, his brushes with the law and his tempestuous relationship with first wife, Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), as well as – most notably – his aching devotion to best friend and eventual soul mate, June Carter (Witherspoon).
Yet bolstered by a remarkable performance from Phoenix – who acts and sings his heart out – the film remains an utterly compelling experience, as well as a life-affirming look at a man who was able to rise above his personal demons to realise his ambitions and serve as an inspiration to others.
Pheonix may not physically resemble Cash but he cuts an impressive figure nonetheless – his deep voice and guitar-playing posture overcoming any such personal obstacles.
What’s more, he shares genuine chemistry with Witherspoon, whose depiction of the angelic Carter is no-less impressive, especially when helping Cash to conquer his addictions.
It helps elevate Walk The Line from bog-standard biopic to genuinely endearing love story, giving it plenty of heart and soul.
Mangold, too, deserves the utmost credit for managing to avoid the many pitfalls the film could have faced.
The film is clearly a labour of love and he has embraced the challenge whole-heartedly, both musically and dramatically.
His decision to let the actors perform their own songs is particularly impressive and pays huge dividends during the film’s key scenes – such as when Cash/Phoenix performs his songs for the first time in front of producer Sam Phillips at Memphis’ Sun Studios in 1955 or when he collapses mid-concert following a particularly heavy amphetamine binge.
Both scenes feel all the more authentic for having been performed by Phoenix and audiences are sure to hold their breath in anticipation of the outcome of both events.
Phoenix is equally as impressive during the personal scenes, conveying the torment Cash felt at the death of his brother, as well as the anguish at his father’s disapproval, very well.
It makes his undying devotion to Carter and her stubborn resistance to his advances all the more poignant to observe.
As a film, Walk The Line derives its name from Cash’s song about the difficulties of avoiding temptation while married. In production, it walked its own line between success and failure. Like Cash’s own life story, it emerges triumphantly to assume an iconic status of its own.
Running time: 134 minutes