Movie Review: "Walk The Line"

Time for another non-baseball diversion on a quiet, cloudy, November and Novembrish (weather-wise) Sunday...

Can you say "Oscar nominations"?

That's what Walk The Line is going to get, lots of them.

It is, as you likely know, the story of Johnny Cash (at least up to 1969, when he finally marries June Carter).

What is most remarkable about this film is how the two lead actors -- Joaquin Phoenix as Cash, and Reese Witherspoon as Carter, become the characters.

I'm not telling you anything you can't find on a zillion other review sites by saying that Phoenix and Witherspoon do all their own singing in this film.

What that does is absolutely amazing. You can close your eyes and hear Cash and Carter, not the actors. Witherspoon, who as I learned in surfing around the web finding out more about this film, is a direct descendant of John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, goes way past her ditzy "Legally Blonde" character to portray a woman of depth and substance, June Carter, who suffered through many years of Cash's spiral into drug addiction that nearly ruined his career, before she agreed to marry him (it didn't really happen the way it's portrayed in the film, but we can give film directors some poetic license).

Actually, Witherspoon plays Carter with a manic energy that nearly steals the show from Phoenix, but we also see her quiet determination and strength that literally saves Cash's life.

For his part, Phoenix shows amazing range as an actor, and at one point we can literally see how Cash's musical style developed in a matter of moments. This from an actor who never really sang before this film.

The film begins with Cash "backstage" (actually, in a woodshop) before his famous show at Folsom Prison -- and then, before the show even begins, goes to flashback for nearly an hour, to show how Cash arrived at that moment. It's amazing to realize now, 37 years later, how bold a chance Cash was taking with the live performance at the prison (doing that because he had written the eponymous song, years ago in the Air Force), but what happens in the interim shows you that he had to take that chance; record company execs thought he was nuts -- but we learn that it outsold everything, "even the Beatles".

There are some other really nice side performances, including Ginnifer Goodwin as Cash's long-suffering first wife, Vivian -- you may be thinking you're seeing last year's hit movie "Ray" again -- but the lives of Ray Charles and Johnny Cash are parallel, from their small-town Southern roots, to their rapid rises to fame, to their downfalls for similar reasons, to their resurrections to triumph.

You realize in watching this film, which, as I noted, covers Cash's life only up to 1969, that one of the little girls you see only in the background is Rosanne Cash -- a star in her own right, even today, and another is her stepsister Carlene Carter.

The Cashes and the Carters have been music "royalty" in this country for many years, and whether you like their music or not -- this is a well-done film, and the performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon are not to be missed.

Warning! I had "Ring of Fire" running through my head for several hours after I saw this film. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing.

AYRating: * * * *

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