Walk The Line (2005)

Director:  James Mangold
Cast:  Joaquin PhoenixReese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick
Plot:  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, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Genre:  Biography / Drama / Music / Romance
Awards:  Won 1 Oscar - Best Lead Actress.  Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Lead Actor, Film Editing, Costume Design, Sound Mixing.
Runtime:  136min
Rating:  PG for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency.

“Don't give me no rules. All I got are rules

Before the remake of 3:10 To Yuma (2007), a Western I enjoyed, James Mangold’s previous work was the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line, which I enjoyed less but appreciated more. Walk the Line stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, a key figure in the tumultuous life led by Cash. Both are nominated for acting Oscars with the latter winning the Best Actress statuette. With a length of slightly more than two hours, Walk the Line has enough time to fill in as much as possible on Cash’s life without being overtly dry and boring.

As with most biopics, Walk the Line follows almost too obediently to the common trajectory used in such films: the rise of the lead character from a poor or problematic background to the highest rung in the ladder of fame, and then to the lowest depth of despair due to drug abuse, crime or relationship issues, and then to reconciliation and back to the limelight again. But that is because most famous people lead similar lives of alternating highs and lows. Johnny Cash was no exception.

Cash was raised by an unsupportive father and had an unhappy childhood. He then raised a family of his own which he later abandoned because he met June during a live show and fell in love with her. At the prime of his career, Cash became an abuser of drugs which forced him into a downward spiral. But he was eventually saved by June from the jaws of obscurity. Walk The Line is as much a tribute to the unforgettable music of Cash as his pursuit of June in a relationship that is far from the usual romance.

Mangold directs Walk the Line with a simple, uncluttered style that is easy on the eye. The music is brilliant and I have to admit to being completely amazed by the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon. Not only do they mimic almost pitch-perfectly the voices of Cash and June (mind you they did not lip-synch at all), their on-screen chemistry makes for a delightful watch as well. But there is something about the film which bothers me quite a bit: the thick accent used by its lead characters. At times it is hard to decipher their lines without the aid of subtitles. Well, I can only blame myself.

The best thing about Walk the Line is the sound which is nominated for an Oscar here. The clarity of each musical instrument and the sharp voices of the singer-actors are so well-mixed they give the film a resonant quality that will impress music lovers. Walk the Line is not a great biopic; Cash is not as complex a character as, say, Howard Hughes or Jake LaMotta, thus the film stays mostly in its comfort zone without the need to dwell very deep into its depicted character. The result is less than excellent, but decent enough to warrant a viewing.


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