Walk the Line James Mangold

At this year's Academy Awards, host Jon Stewart cracked that there were a lot of remakes this year, including this chronicle of a time in the life of country star Johnny Cash: "It's Ray with white people," Stewart quipped. There certainly are a number of biographical and structural similarities to each tale: both Cash and Ray Charles grew up poor in the South; both lost brothers at an early age that were of significant influence; and both struggled with drugs and womanising until settling into a life of adoration, success and artistic longevity. It seems a bit of a cop-out to dismiss clearly different life experiences in such a way, but Walk the Line screenwriter and director James Mangold admits that he merely took convenient parts of Cash's life and fit them to the movie he wanted to make: a journey through hardship into the light of true love. That true love, of course, was June Carter Cash, captured with such sparky verve and spirit by Reese Witherspoon. Not only does she deserve her Oscar, she carries the entire film with her big smile, which masks a wounded heart. Johnny Cash is played (by Joaquin Phoenix) more in spirit than strict imitation — particularly in his choice to "grow" the character of Cash over the course of the film, which works reasonably for the purposes of film structure but frustrates me personally, as a Cash fan. (His decision results in "weaker" singing moments early in the film, like his audition for Sun Records' Sam Phillips, while he gets stronger and stronger as the film moves along.) Mangold acknowledges that choice — and claims to admire it — in his reasonably erudite and considered commentary. He also reveals numerous insights into Cash himself — whom he met and spent time with in preparing for the film — that can make the end result of Walk the Line a little more frustrating. About 30 minutes of deleted scenes reveal that Mangold did indeed try to inject some missing biographical elements into the film, such as fleshing out Cash's relationship with first wife Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) and attempting to portray his return to church and his embracing of Christianity, but those jarred in the context of his film. It's too bad that he wasn't able to overcome the structural strictures of what is in the end a fairly rote biographical structure, because the performances and the subject matter certainly have a richness that could support a more ambitious film. (Fox)