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  • Movie Review: Walk The Line

       November 27, 2005

    What you walk into "Walk the Line" expecting is going to determine what you think of this movie. If you want to see a film about Johnny Cash's musical inspiration and legacy, I think you'll be disappointed. If you want a movie that explores the demons that drove the musical outlaw, you'll be somewhat satisfied. If you want to see an old-fashioned love story, you'll probably love it. And, if you can manage to walk into the theater with an open mind, I think you'll thoroughly enjoy it.

    I've always liked Johnny Cash, but I didn't really know anything about him. Although, unlike a shockingly large percentage of moviegoers and reviewers, I did realize that he was a rock, not country, pioneer. I've read reviews from more than a few writers who were surprised to learn that Cash shared the stage with the likes of Elvis, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. The movie, based on a couple of Cash autobiographies, covers Cash's life from 1944 to 1968. Cash, we learn, was driven by guilt and his father's emotional abandonment after the accidental death of his beloved older brother Jack.

    Yeah, that seems like a big time movie cliche, but, like I said, the movie isn't about Cash's demons. It's about his angel, June Carter. I read a review that was pretty critical of the portrayal of Carter:

    June is made to seem like a high school virgin protecting her honor, and when we see her composing the lyrics to ''Ring of Fire,'' it doesn't compute: As written, this perky, straight-and-narrow woman is the last person on earth who would fall, through love, ''into a burning ring of fire.''

    Reviews like this just don't get it. A man like Johnny Cash could never have written "Ring of Fire. I think Cash fell into burning rings of fire every time he managed to get out of bed in the morning. For a woman like June, on the other hand, falling in love with a tortured soul like Cash really was like reaching a hand down into hell to get to him. Reese Witherspoon does a great job of playing a woman who is sweet and spunky, but also has the strength and quiet courage to love Cash. All that, and she can sing (Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix do all their own singing in the movie)!

    As good as Witherspoon is, Phoenix is even better as Cash himself. Of course he's no Johnny Cash, but his singing is good enough. He has the weathered craggy face and he's never afraid to make Cash ugly and unlikeable at times. There are moments when he absolutely inhabits the role. The best scene in the film is when Cash and his band audition for Sun Records' Sam Phillips. The play a gospel song by the numbers, but then Phillips challenges him to sing something he believes. Cash starts to play "Folsom Prison Blues", but first he asks whether Phillips has anything against the Air Force. After Phillips responds he says, just under his breath, "well I do". It's a tiny little moment in the film, but sometimes it's the small things that give you a better idea of the person.

    I hope Phoenix wins an Oscar for his performance. If you read about him, I think it's easy to see why he's so perfect for the role (rumor has it that he was handpicked by Cash). Like Cash, he's had to deal with the death of a "golden child" of an older brother (River). And, like Cash, he's an artist who has never been afraid to delve into the dark side of humanity and has struggled with his own addictions.

    So, I know I've made this movie sound like kind of a serious downer, but it really isn't just that. Like Cash, it's got a dark side. But, also like Cash, it's full of great music. It's bound to spark an interest not only in Cash, but also in other early rock artists. It's almost impossible to not walk out of the movie humming "Folsom Prison Blues". There's something strange and wonderful about a theater full of people singing about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die.


    Posted by at November 27, 2005 04:45 PM

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    Comments

    #  November 28th, 2005 7:28 AM      cherlynda
    Kris,
    I went to the movie also. I just loved it. I think the actors had great chemistry and finally a love story where you can see why they love each other and they give the audience enough time for that to develop. Also I cant get those Cash songs out of my mind.  
     
    #  November 28th, 2005 8:29 AM      kris
    If you don't have any Cash, I'll make some CDs for you and bring them up at Christmas.  
     
    #  November 29th, 2005 2:22 PM      hohjohn
    "Although, unlike a shockingly large percentage of moviegoers and reviewers, I did realize that he was a rock, not country, pioneer."

    Cash never really liked labels. The "COuntry" label may have come from his marriage into the Carter family. Both genres actually have very similar roots in Appalachian folk music.

    Anyway, I loved "Walk the Line." I listened to Cash's music growing up. I have even started collecting the CD's--hey, would people complain about Cash's lyrics today when he sings "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."? (As a footnote, the tribute album done before he died, the artist who sings "Folsom Prison Blues" changed those lyrics I assume to be politically correct--for shame!)

    Is there a downside to the movie? Well, for a week I couldn't get those Johnny Cash songs out of my head--and the blasted CD companies don't print the lyrics in the liner notes anymore! Help! I need a Johnny Cash songbook! Phoenix and Reese both did marvelous jobs and I loved seeing Maybelle Carter packing heat!  
     
    #  December 1st, 2005 9:15 AM      mbrlr
    A great artist and a great Arkansawyer; we're very proud of him.  
     

     

     


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