Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne
Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: James Mangold and Gill Dennis
Rated: M drug use, moderate themes, infrequent coarse language
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Love Is A Burning Thing.
Primarily the story of the love that grew between country stars Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) during the early years of Cash's career. Witherspoon's singing is lovely, and Phoenix's contains the raw energy and soul that defined Cash's sound. As a child on a farm in Depression-era Arkansas, Cash shows a strong interest in music, escaping from his no-frills life and strict father (Robert Patrick) through hymns and listening to the radio. When his brother dies in a freak accident, young Johnny feels responsible, and worries that he will never live up to his brother's goodness. The film follows Cash through his first marriage with Vivian Cash (Ginnifer Goodwin) and into the early stages of his touring career. As Cash's success grows, so does his relationship with drugs, alcohol, and Carter, putting a strain upon his family life.
"Walk The Line" never attempts to paint a full picture of Cash's prolific career, but instead focuses on the passions that drove his music and on the woman who gave him strength.
"Walk The Line" begins with the infamous live concert recording in 1968 at Folsom Prison with the legendary Johnny Cash contemplating the past. Flashbacks then recall Cash's life from his harsh poverty-riddled early childhood, which included the traumatic death of his older brother in a tragic accident, through his struggle to deal with his dominating and loveless father, his yearning to become a singer and family man, his battle with alcohol and drug dependency and to his intense and all-consuming relationship with singer June Carter, whom Cash would eventually marry.
Preparing for months for the role, Joaquin Phoenix just nails his performance as Johnny Cash, perfecting the mannerisms, the nuances and idiosyncrasies of a complex man including his infamous opening line at concerts - "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash". Phoenix does all his own singing and learnt to play the guitar just the way Cash did, unorthodox as it was and is just so believable and convincing that you sometimes want to get up there on the screen and help him out of his misery. It's brilliant.
Reese Witherspoon's performance as June Carter is a mixed bag. Her southern voice and singing are wonderfully strong and her bubbly and tenacious personality shines through but it's just that for a woman who had seen some very rough times she doesn't quite seem to have enough guts for Carter.
Johnny Cash and June Carter were involved in script development with director James Mangold and co-writer Gill Dennis to ensure accuracy and this is evident by the attention to detail, including those unseen "little things" such as authentic guitars from the era which have a unique sound. It is these trivial details that lift the movie above an average outing and into a cut above.
Apart from being a love story, "Walk The Line" is also a history lesson of sorts as Cash and Carter are shown at times touring the US and Canada alongside other legendary musicians such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings and their music was a pivotal point in the history of rock and roll although Cash did not strictly belong to a particular musical genre.
With strong similarities to the style and story of 'Ray' (2005), it's very hard not to get swept along with the music, even if you're not a fan of the era. If you didn't know or like Johnny Cash and June Carter and their music before, you may well become a fan after seeing "Walk The Line".
Rating : ****