I’m not what you’d call a “country music fan.” At least I wasn’t until last week, when I saw Walk the Line (20th Century Fox, 2005) with the fam. Line is the true story of country music legends Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon). It’s a remarkable film.
Phoenix turns in a brilliant performance of the complicated, multi-faceted ‘Man in Black’ who finally turns his life around with the help of June Carter. In an extraordinary thespian tour de force, Phoenix captures Cash’s driving “freight train” voice with a steely intensity that should’ve earned him a Best Actor Oscar. He has Cash’s unique style, mannerisms, posture, gestures and facial expressions down so well, it’s like looking at Johnny in a mirror. Witherspoon is equally as impressive as the sassy, spunky Carter. Both do their own singing.
In an era of car crashes, computer-generated graphics, earsplitting soundtracks or cheap theatrical gimmicks to draw in audiences, character-driven movies of this quality are as rare as the Hope diamond. Walk the Line walks the extra mile – several, in fact – and relies on rich, three-dimensional characterizations, superb storytelling, great performances and dramatic conflict – both external and internal – to ably round out this inspiring story of an American icon. “I know that one!” tunes like Folsom Prison Blues, Jackson, I Got Stripes and Ring of Fire are peppered throughout. So are “cameo appearances” by “Jerry Lee Lewis”, “Waylon Jennings”, “Roy Orbison”, and “Elvis”.
Why it took me five+ years to discover this gem, I don’t know. But “better late than never.” Even my teenagers enjoyed Walk the Line (high praise indeed).
Any way you run it, Walk is a keeper. It may even convert you into a country music fan. Just don’t ask for my copy of It Ain’t Me, Babe. I ain’t sharin’.
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