Drama following the life of the legendary ‘Man in Black’, Johnny Cash. The movie begins in 1955, when a tough, skinny guitar-slinger who called himself J.R. Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) walks into the soon-to-be-famous Sun Studios in Memphis. It was a moment that would have an indelible effect on American culture. With his driving freight-train chords, steel-eyed intensity and a voice as deep and black as night, Cash sang blistering songs of heartache and survival that were gutsy, full of real life and unlike anything heard before. That day kicked off the electrifying early career of Johnny Cash. As he pioneered a fiercely original sound that blazed a trail for rock, country, punk, folk and rap stars to come, Cash began a rough-and-tumble journey of personal transformation. In the most volatile period of his life, he evolved from a self-destructive pop star into the iconic ‘Man in Black’ – facing down his demons, fighting for the love that would save him time and again, and learning how to walk the razor-thin line between destruction and redemption. Reese Witherspoon won a Best Actress Academy Award for her role as June Carter, Cash’s long-suffering wife.
Charting the life stories of both legendary musician Johnny Cash and singer June Carter, Walk The Line has proven to be among the most popular music biopics of all time. And with good reason.
Spearheaded by two superb performances (which well come to shortly), the films main focus is on Cash himself, from his childhood, early successes, eventual troubles through to the legendary concert of Folsom Prison. His journey also takes in drug problems, the tragedy that haunted him and bumpy relationships with the women in his life. Throughout, of course, theres Cashs enviable body of musical work, which not only helps provide markers for his story, but makes for an excellent soundtrack to the movie as a whole.
As a film, Walk The Line is resolutely formulaic, with a structure thatll be familiar to anyone who regularly watches biopics of this ilk. What really helps this one stand tall though are Joaquin Pheonix and Reese Witherspoon. Pheonix is utterly compelling in the lead role, while Witherspoon is back on the form she displayed back in the days of Election.
James Mangolds direction is fine and uncluttered, and while his film clearly chooses which elements of Cashs life to focus on (theres certainly far more to know than you get in the two and a quarter hours here), it works extremely well as an entry point into the life story of a great musician. Even the casual viewer will get a lot from Walk The Line, and it may even compel them to expand their CD collection off the back of it,–Simon Brew