Arriving at the Odeon five minutes before the film began was a mistake; I’d overestimated how many people wanted to see this film, so I had to sit right at the front and right at the edge, my neck twisted, my vision overwhelmed by GIANT FACES and a muscle in my back nagging me for the whole time. Despite this, I enjoyed Walk the Line, and if I can enjoy a film whilst sat like a practicing contortionist then I think that says a lot.
Walk the Line, a Johnny Cash biopic, has a lot in common with another highly-praised biopic, Ray. Both films tell the life stories of men who grew out of impoverished backgrounds, both suffering from the loss of a brother, and who both went on to become vastly successful in the music industry and nearly lost everything due to drug abuse. Both men also cheated on their wives, which makes the title of the film here an odd choice — the song of the same name was a song written for Cash’s first wife, as a way of essentially saying “I won’t cheat on you.”
You look like you’re on your way to a funeral
Both films feature superb leads; just as Jamie Foxx was Ray Charles, here Joaquin Phoenix is Johnny Cash — hand-picked for the role by Cash himself, Phoenix’s performance — for which he learnt to sing and play the guitar — is flawless and endlessly entertaining, and it’s a constant disappointment whenever he stops singing. When the end of the film is near and he’s dressed in his signature black suit and sunglasses, confident with a touch of swagger, it’s perfect.
Both films feature strong female leads, and it’s Reese Witherspoon (who also did her own singing and learnt to play the auto-harp) as June Carter who is just as perfectly cast as Phoenix — she’s strong, has huge stage presence and steals the show on more than one occasion.
Maybe I am…
There’s a lot to like here. Aside from the excellent performances by Phoenix and Witherspoon, there’s a strong supporting cast — Robert Patrick as Cash’s father, Waylon Payne as Jerry Lee Lewis and Dan John Miller as Luther Perkins stood out — and the film manages both tragedy and comedy well.
My only problem with the film is that…well, Cash’s life wasn’t all that interesting. I mean, it was more interesting than mine, certainly, but what we see here — a rise to fame, drug addiction, infidelity, a crash, a rise again — just isn’t all that shocking; if anything, it’s actually expected. So — and again, this is just as it was in Ray — the film is enjoyable for the performances and little else. But the performances are well worth the price of admission, and you’ll be singing Johnny Cash songs for the rest of the day.