Rachel's Blog: Review: Walk the Line

Fri, 03 Mar 2006
Walk the Line poster

I am not a fan of Johnny Cash. I can't hear "Ring of Fire" without thinking haemorrhoid cream. Walk the Line requires neither of these constants.

Joaquin Phoenix takes the character of Cash* and, while not providing an impersonation, captures the spirit of the man in a completely convincing way. I know nothing at all about June Carter, but Reese Witherspoon's portrayal makes me want to find out more. Both actors are nominated for Oscars for these roles and have already won scads of other awards.

These were two fascinating characters in fascinating times. Walk the Line rarely stoops to gimmick, although it does contain "cameos" by Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, it was not the focus of the film to be smart-alecky.

This is a respectful telling of Cash's story from the farms of Arkansas to the stages of Vegas. Walk the Line doesn't hide the fact of his drug dependancy. Some reviews have complained it does not show enough of his worst times, but Phoenix's performance convinced me that Cash was as low as a human can go. Recovery did seem to come a little easy, although that never is the most visually interesting part of a story.

It seems to be the rule nowadays that if an actor is cast in a singing role they are expected to actually sing their parts. (Once upon a time this would not have been cause for comment.) Phoenix and Witherspoon, while not possessing world class "pipes" prove that six months of professional training can be sufficient to carry a performance convincing enough that the audience does not stop to take note of the fact they are singing.

The concert scenes are enthralling. All shot from the point of view of those on stage, they provide a continuation of the characters; this is the most important part of their lives. The film-makers do not stop the story for the sake of spectacular set pieces, but by involving the cinema audience in the experience of the performers, the onstage scenes do become spectacular and exciting.

I am not a fan of Johnny Cash.

I bought the soundtrack yesterday.

*An interesting aside to the casting of Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash: Phoenix lost his highly talented brother River to an accidental drug overdose. Cash's loss of his own brother, another terrible accident, shaped much of his character. The film illustrates him having to prove his worth to his father who felt that his elder son was the one with all the promise and that music was not a worthy occupation. Of course I know nothing of Joaquin's preparations for this role, and I seriously doubt he ever felt inferior to his brother, but I though it was worth pointing out.