Walk The Line (DVD) Review
Nominated for five Academy Awards, and winner of the Oscar for Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon), Walk The Line chronicles the life and times of legendary country music star Johnny Cash with an intense, and sometimes dark, intimacy. Following on the heels of the previous year’s Oscar Award-winning picture Ray, based on the life of Ray Charles, I entered the theater under the mistaken impression that Walk The Line would be a cookie-cutter attempt to capitalize on the various themes of that picture’s commercial success. But although the dramatic personal struggle with drug addiction is prevalent in both films, Walk The Line was more than able to stand on its own as a powerful and impressionable big screen biography. And just like the aforementioned film, you leave Walk The Line with a renewed interest in the music of Johnny Cash and a deep personal attachment to the lives of Cash and his likeable wife, June Carter. Directed by James Mangold, the talent behind such notable films as Kate & Leopold (2001) and Identity (2003), Walk The Line begins in the rough and tumble world of Depression-Era Arkansas where a young Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) tends to the family cotton farm with his parents and older brother. Early on, a family tragedy strains the relationship between Cash and his father, providing a glimpse into the epic moment that would shape his life forever.
Soon after, the film jumps to the early 1950s where Cash perfects his guitar talents while stationed overseas in the Air Force. His marriage to high school classmate Vivian Liberto lands the two in Memphis where Johnny supports the family as an appliance salesman while pursuing his musical interests on the side. Here, Cash founds The Tennessee Two with bassist Marshall Grant (Larry Bagby) and guitarist Luther Perkins (Dan John Miller), and the trio plays its way to a music deal with local label Sun Records. As part of a promotional campaign, Cash is put on tour with other “rockabilly” newcomers Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton), Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Payne), and Carl Perkins (Johnny Holiday). But during his tour with the quartet, the life of Johnny Cash takes numerous turns.
He meets the affable June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), begins an addiction to amphetamines and alcohol, and watches his marriage to Vivian deteriorate under the strain of his constant absence. All three would come to define the next fifteen years of Cash’s life as he struggled to triumph over his personal demons. Despite his all-encompassing drug addiction, Cash nevertheless manages to crank out hits, but his personal life hits rock bottom following bouts with divorce, loneliness, depression, and his continued drug addiction. When Cash reunites with June Carter in a musical collaboration, the magical bond between the two is amplified. But Johnny’s addiction threatens to ruin everything they’ve built together… The most impressive aspect of Walk The Line, aside from the storyline itself, is the performance of Witherspoon and her counterpart Phoenix. Amazingly, both provide their own voiceovers, and for the casual listener, very little difference can be detected between the Hollywood talents and the real life country music legends they impersonate. Much was made of the performance of Joaquin Phoenix in the days leading up to the film’s release, but I came away more impressed by Witherspoon. Apparently, so did the Academy because they awarded her their highest honor for the role. What stood out the most was the actress’s down-to-earth smile and charismatic mannerisms. She created a character with ample assertiveness, yet one that burst at the seams with an infectious optimism and love for life.
As such, the audience can’t help but fall in love with June Carter. In addition, Witherspoon displays an amazing singing voice that accurately captures the distinct and unique aspects of June Carter’s talent. Overall, Walk The Line is a fine film, and a fitting remembrance to the career and life of country music’s greatest icon, Johnny Cash….
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