A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash’s life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
Biography, Drama, Music
Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Payne, Shooter Jennings, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Dan Beene, Clay Steakley, Johnathan Rice
Lay and I went to see this film Wednesday night before Thanksgiving up in North Carolina. Lay was too excited about, but I thought it was very well done.
First, this is an excellent film. Second, it is formulaic, but not to a fault. The film is two great performances. Luckily, they’re the right two. Phoenix has done an excellent job capturing Cash, the man. Not the legend and not what everyone thought he would be. What made Johnny Cash such an icon was that he was an “everyman” and Phoenix gives his all to not only capture every subtle nuance but also to make him believable as a flawed human being. Watch, in particular, the performance sequences, and I’d argue that it’s equal to Foxx’s Ray Charles without nearly as much caricature.
There’s no attempts on behalf of the filmmakers at the predestination of Cash as a superstar. They simply show how he learned to sing with a radio and a hymnal. The back story given before his career started is essential to the way his life unfolds and, for the most part, is kept in well-shot and brief sequences. There are few attempts to over-glamourize or over-dramatize the events that shaped Cash’s life and career.
Reese Witherspoon’s performance, as well, is surprisingly good. There are precious few points in the film where you remember she was in Legally Blonde, and her vocals and live performances are stronger than many I’ve seen from Hollywood actresses in recent years.
So, with all this greatness, what could be wrong? Nothing, really. This is a solid film, but it is completely conventional. It doesn’t go for the weepy Oscar moments that drown many films and it doesn’t try to cover too much of the man’s life focusing mostly on his years between his Sun Records contract and his “At Folsom Prison” album. If you have no love for the man himself, or his music, you may walk away underwhelmed, but otherwise you’ll be pleased.
“Walk the Line” is a well-made movie. Mangold’s direction is capable, and the script stays fairly true to the biographies upon which it was based. It does have excellent performances, but barring a groundswell of support for Cash’s legacy (which could arise) I don’t see it running away with any awards. It will contend for some due to excellent performances. Considering “Ray” was about a half-hour too long, I’d even go so far as to say it has an excellent shot at a Best Picture nomination. But a win may be difficult.