Published Dec 01, 2005Walk the Line opens with a remarkable sound - the thump, thump, thump of a frenzied audience awaiting the arrival of their idol, their hero, their symbol of hope in dark times. Fans scream song titles and the band holds a country groove, awaiting the arrival of the headlining act. It was a gig the record company didn't want him to play; it was a gig that, as one of the biggest selling acts in music history, the artist didn't need; and it was a gig that would define him, his fans and his musical legacy. It's Johnny Cash live at California's Folsom Prison, as told in Walk the Line, the biography starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by James Mangold (Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted).
Cash doesn't take the stage yet as this scene unfolds; the most famous show he ever gave is used as bookends for the story of Cash and the love of his life, June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), as it unfolds from his childhood until their eventual marriage at the end of the 1960s. With the early childhood flashbacks of family trauma and the rags to slightly nicer rags to eventual drug-addled riches story, it recalls last year's "inspiring" biography Ray, but Walk the Line is a better story better told.
When Cash takes his fateful walk into Sam Phillips's Memphis studio, Sun Recordings, and auditions for the man already behind Elvis Presley, his singing (done in the film by Phoenix himself) is tentative; by the time he takes the stage, at the end of the film, at Folsom Prison, it's confident and strong - Phoenix embodies Cash so effectively that it no longer seems like a jarring imitation of the famous gravelly baritone. Even better, as third-generation country star June Carter, is Reese Witherspoon. From the moment she appears on screen, Witherspoon brings Walk the Line to life. Her spunky, sparky Carter is the lifeblood for both Cash - providing a guiding hand, as well as a stern inspiration - and the film itself.
Walk the Line chooses to make their romance the central theme of this story, to some extent eschewing Cash's religious journeys and his musical inspirations in favour of good old fashioned romance, which blossoms throughout the film despite the fact that Cash is married (to Vivian, played with beautiful frustration by Win A Date with Tad Hamilton's Ginnifer Goodwin) throughout the period. To Walk the Line's credit - and unlike other muso-bio-pics like Ray - the film makes almost no attempt to explain Cash's musical legacy or even explore his muse, letting the music (through Phoenix) speak for itself.
By the time Cash and Carter finally harness enough of their individual demons to come together in life, as well as on stage, one can't help but cheer the lifelong connection. (When June died in May, 2003, Cash followed just four months later.) He connects with the film audience just as he did with those prisoners at Folsom more than 25 years ago: as an artist, as an inspiration and as a man. (Fox)