Walk the Line said the Man in Black
There is nothing I enjoy more than a really good biopic, one which entertains, educates and excites whenever you watch it. For me "Walk the Line" starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash fits that scenario perfectly, leaving me fully entertained once the movie has ended. In fact despite its 124 minute duration it leaves me wanting more. Adding to this and making "Walk the Line" all the more pleasurable is that despite feeling a little like a stock biopic storyline, the rise to fame, the adversity etc, it is made all that more special because it is also an amazing true love story.
"Walk the Line" chronicles the early years of legendary Country singer Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix - Signs) from his childhood days, through to his rise to fame as a singer, his romance with June Carter (Reese Witherspoon - Sweet Home Alabama), his decline into drug addiction and culminating in the now legendary concert at Folsom Prison in 1968.
As is often the case with biopics we get a look at the life of Johnny Cash from childhood, thankfully "Walk the Line" does not over dwell in this area just delivering what is important, such as the accidental death of his brother and the deteriorating relationship between himself and his father. "Walk the Line" then gets into the meat of the movie and concentrates on Johnny's rise to fame, his decline into drug addiction and his relationship with fellow country singer June Carter. What the movie does for me is to not compartmentalize any of these elements but keeps all 3 areas flowing effortlessly into one compelling story.
But having said that, you would have thought that "Walk the Line" would have predominantly been about Johnny's music, where in fact I would say the main focus is on his relationship with June Carter. By doing this "Walk the Line" plays like a love story and it is in all honesty one of the best love stories I have seen, entertaining and real. There is nothing cheesy or cliché about it and the fact that even some of the more surprising moments are based on fact makes it all the more amazing.
Leading on from that, one of main niggles with biopics is the huge amount of poetic licence film makers use to spice up a storyline, glorifying events and changing the timeline. Thankfully "Walk the Line" does stay extremely close to the truth using Johnny Cash's own book as the source and also having his son John Carter Cash on the production team.
Of course a movie about a musician, in fact two as June Carter was a renowned Country singer in her own right, is going to be full of music. I personally like Cash's music and it was a joy to listen to so many of his songs used in "Walk the Line", and they certainly get the foot tapping. Like wise the songs from June Carter are equally as good and have the same effect as those from Cash. Now what surprised me was that the songs performed in the movie were not dubbed, but the actual actors, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who learned to sing and play in the style of their characters. This really was a surprise but a good one as they are both so convincing that it really did make the movie feel so much better for it. It's not just the music which makes the movie so interesting but the links to other musicians from the periods, such as Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley. For those who are not aware of Johnny Cash's history it is a surprisingly educational movie.
Here's an interesting fact about "Walk the Line", Johnny and June actually picked Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon to play themselves and I have to say they were right to do so. I am fortunate enough to have seen footage of Johnny Cash from his younger days and not only does Phoenix look spookily like him, but he has learned all the mannerisms of the musician, from the uneasy guitar technique to the slight snarl and most importantly the sound of his voice. Often a choice of actor can ruin a biopic because they are unable to let go of their ego and fully immerse themselves in a character, but Phoenix is so impressive that I feel he was robbed when he didn't win an Oscar for his performance despite being nominated.
Reese Witherspoon is equally impressive and unlike Phoenix did win an Oscar for her performance. Now I will admit that June Carter was not a person I was overly familiar with before watching "Walk the Line" but since watching it have learned a lot more about her and indeed Witherspoon has done her work in learning how to be her character. What really stood out for me is the interactions between Phoenix and Witherspoon and you are completely convinced that they are not only the legendary couple but that they are falling in love with each other.
Whilst Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon quite rightly are the centre of attention, "Walk the Line" is made all the better for having a very good supporting cast. For me there are numerous performances which are spot on from, Waylon Payne as Jerry Lee Lewis and Ginnifer Goodwin as Vivian Cash, but the one which stands out the most is that of Robert Patrick as Johnny's father Ray. Robert Patrick is a man I always associate with "Terminator 2" and to some extent "X Files" so to see him in a role like this was something new for me. His characterisation of Ray is brilliant as you get a real sense that he is a working man who detests his own son for reasons which are explained during the movie.
Finally I have to mention the direction of James Mangold who I feel was unlucky not to even get an Oscar nomination let alone win one for "Walk the Line". He brings the movie to life with a perfect balance of entertainment and information. Whilst I could waffle on about how amazing the concert scenes are and the fact that you feel like you are actually there or that his choice of backdrops capture the era down to a T. What stands out for me is that he has packed so much into the movie without making it feel drawn out or making the pace feel stifled. Everything moves along at a wonderful pace and I can honestly say that there is not a single scene in the movie which doesn't deliver something of importance or interest.
What this all boils down to is that I honestly can't find anything to criticise with "Walk the Line", everything from the story, the acting, the music and the direction is as near to perfect as can be. The most stand out elements of the movie are of course the wonderful love story but also the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who are absolutely perfect in the lead roles. If you like Johnny Cash, or the music of the 50's/ 60's or even just biopics, then this is one I would strongly recommend.