Director: James Mangold | 137 minutes | drama, music | Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Malloy Payne, Shooter Jennings, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Dan Beene, Clay Steakly, Jonathan Rice, Johnny Holiday, Ridge Canipe, Lucas Till, Carly Nahon, McGhee Monteith, Wyatt Entrekin, Hailey Anne Nelson, Kerris Dorsey, Delaney Marie Keefe, Victoria Hester
“Walk the Line” is an impressive and at times poignant film. The actors’ performances are nothing short of excellent. If you doubt Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash: in no time he has convinced you that he is almost more Johnny Cash than The Man in Black himself. It was to be expected that he would portray the aggressive and self-destructive side of a character convincingly. He has played such roles before. But the fact that he conveys the soft and sweet aspects of his character equally credibly is almost a revelation at times. Moreover, it is great that he manages to make it into one consistent character. Reese Witherspoon as June Carter is not inferior to him with a fresh and energetic performance. The chemistry between the two of them also splashes off the canvas, which makes the love story credible.
Another big plus is the music, superbly produced by T Bone Burnett. Phoenix and Witherspoon sang everything themselves, after a long and thorough preparation. Okay, Phoenix’s voice isn’t nearly as magical as Cash’s, but it’s pretty close. It is also nice that the roles of, for example, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison are played by real, contemporary singers. Especially Waylon Malloy Payne as Jerry Lee Lewis is very funny. In this way, the film also paints an interesting image of the time.
“Walk the Line” is largely heavy on the hand. That cannot be avoided, considering the misery Cash is going through. A terrible father who belittles him to the bone, even during his great successes, a childhood trauma due to a family tragedy and a drug addiction. The story is based on the books Man in Black and Cash, the Autobiography, written by Cash himself, of course. He has not been able to see the film himself again, but approved the script and was also enthusiastic about casting Phoenix.
The film’s biggest flaw is the way certain scenes are told. Dramatic highlights are announced so clearly that they hardly surprise anymore. Sometimes the approach is that of a soap: first tell that it is coming, then show it and then tell again that it happened. That sometimes irritates. And if a scene is meant to be dramatic, you as a viewer will know that too. A terrible marital quarrel is not bad enough, at the end the children have to be shown, who are crying about it. This is unfortunate because it detracts from the actors’ performance. After they have shown a whole range of emotions with a few glances, words and actions, they also need to identify them. Redundant and a shame, but otherwise the film is so good that it can take it.
“Walk the Line” won three Golden Globe Awards, strangely enough in the musical / comedy category, for best picture, best actor and best actress. Witherspoon was also voted best actress by the US Screen Actors Guild and, like Phoenix, has been nominated for an Oscar. All in all, the film leaves a strong, lasting impression. Phoenix is super cool, as someone aptly put it, and Witherspoon sparkles off the screen. For that reason alone it is very worthwhile to see.