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Somewhere, Johnny and June are
Walk the Line
Review written by: Alex Sandell
I realize this review is long overdue. When the studio refused to let Internet critics in Minneapolis attend a Walk the Line screening until 7:30 PM the night before the film opened, I knew I wouldn't be able to get a review done and online by the film's opening day. Walk the Line lost out on a positive review that would have been up the morning of its release and would have added to its word-of-mouth.
As big a fan of Johnny Cash as I am, I was bound to either really like this film, or really hate it. Joaquin Phoenix was a bold choice to play Johnny Cash. The man's an incredible actor, but I didn't see him as Cash. After watching the film, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the part.
This isn't a Saturday Night Live impersonation of a famous celebrity. This is a guy with the acting chops to channel Cash's mannerisms, sound and look to a "T" (well, maybe the sound isn't quite "T"-worthy), and then make them his own. Johnny Cash was a true individual and to capture his essence is a minor miracle. Phoenix deserves the Academy Award for Best Actor for somehow pulling it off.
Reese Witherspoon has done just as good a job of bringing June Carter to life (although she doesn't quite capture that guttural country twang June was known for, while singing). She's loads of fun when she's on stage in the movie, but there is also an astonishing amount of depth to her performance when she steps off the stage and into the troubled waters that made up so much of Johnny Cash's life.
Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix are brilliant. Together the two actors are mind-boggling. Their chemistry is undeniable. The way they play off of each other is masterful. Their performances are the kind that put tears in your eyes. They make Walk the Line unforgettable.
Walk the Line is an emotional powerhouse. The dialogue is sharp and more than once a line had me misting up like a stainless steel mist sprayer. During a wedding proposal between Cash and Carter, my brother noticed I was holding back tears. "You're such a hopeless romantic," he told me after the movie ended. My girlfriend playfully jabbed me in the shoulder laughing. "You old softie," she said. I chuckled back and then proceeded to dump her.
Writer and director James Mangold, with help from co-writer Gill Dennis, has crafted an incredible screenplay. Some may think it's too clichéd, but despite the drug addictions, divorces, premature deaths and everything else common to biopics (and life in general -- did anyone remember to ask my ex-wife to refill my Valium on the way to the funeral home?), there's something entirely unique about Walk the Line.
The movie starts where you'd expect it to end and ends in a place you'd never expect. This film has a soul. The movie is disguised as a biopic, when It's actually a full-blown romance. It's as much a love story as it is a biography. The focus is on two people slowly falling for one another and helping each other get by. After that, it's all about that ass-shaking, toe-tapping, middle-finger-in-the-air music of Mr. Cash.
The recreation of the performance that led to the classic album, At Folsom Prison (if you don't have the live CD, buy it now) is nearly as electrifying as the actual concert itself! During his groundbreaking show at Folsom, Cash pumped up this crowd of convicts like no performer has pumped up an audience before, or since.
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It is during the scene at Folsom that Joaquin Phoenix and Johnny Cash become nearly indistinguishable. Phoenix captures Johnny's rebellious spirit. His attitude. His energy. His humor. His voice. I could have watched nothing but 2 hours of this Folsom Prison recreation and left the theater feeling charged up and happy.
Johnny Cash was a flawed man, but he was also a hero. Superman has his Kryptonite; Johnny had his booze and pills. But what he did for those inmates, not just at Folsom, but also at San Quentin and prisons across the world -- the hope he gave them, if only for an evening -- was something magic.
The movie, as usual, sums it up in a line. A bigwig tells Johnny that Christians listen to his music and they wouldn't want him singing to rapists, killers, and the like. Johnny replies, "Then they aren't Christians."
Walk the Line shows Johnny Cash, warts and all. He's not just played up as "The Legend." He's shown as a man. His ex-wife, Vivian Cash (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the movie's real hero for putting up with so many of Johnny's demons while raising his kids. My heart went out to her.
And June ... what can a person say about June Carter? She was the flame that kept Johnny's fire from going out for so many years. I still get a lump in my throat when I see her standing behind Johnny in the video for Hurt.
The acting in Walk the Line is so convincing, I don't even know if I'm reviewing the actors in the film, or the people they're playing. I do know that you should see this one in the theater, with Dolby Surround Sound blaring from multiple speakers. A theater where you can clap along with the music loud enough for Johnny and June to hear you from wherever they are, and allow them to take one final bow.
Agree, disagree, do you wish you had a better education? Email Alex!
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