on July 12, 2007
I saw this outstanding and honest film about Johnny Cash's life at the cinema with my parents. When we left we realised that we saw something amazing. A film that had the viewer transfixed to the screen by its raw power and energy. This was a very special film indeed.
The film is topped and tailed by Johnny Cash's performance at the Folsom Prison in the early part of the 60's. In between these two scenes, we are shown the main story of Cash's childhood upbringing, his reaction when his brother dies in a freak accident, his leaving home to start on a singing career, get in trouble with women relationships and drugs, up to the moment when he meets and falls in love with June Carter who does her painstaking best to get him off the drugs and to clean his act up.
There are some stunning and memorable scenes in this amazingly realised film and there are some powerful scenes too like the one where we see Cash collapse on stage from a drug overdose. I thought this scene was handled brilliantly.
The performances from the two lead actors Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon are two of the best performances that I've seen. Joaquin Phoenix gives Johnny Cash a ruggish charm and makes him someone to relate to and to gain some kind of inspiration from. I felt he should have won the Oscar for his magnificent portrayal. Whereas Reece Witherspoon did win the Oscar for her tremendous and scintillating performance as June Carter. She is utterly believable in the part. Her part had Oscar written all over it.
All the singing throughout the film were by Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon. They spent six months rehearsing and getting their voices right and to be honest I thought they sounded damn good! In my view, this film is possibly one of the best biopics of the modern age. A definite must see.
"Hey my darlin' hey my sweet
I've waited on the day that I knew we would meet.
Hey my sun, hey my moon
Today's the day that
Johnny met June."
I know that Shelby Lynne wrote "Johnny met June" after the death of Johnny Cash, four months after the passing of June Carter Cash, but it was impossible for me not to think of that song while watching "I Walk the Line," even before I realized that Lynne was playing Cash's mother Carrie. That is because it is clear from the start of this 2005 bio-pic that this is the love story of Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and June (Reese Witherspoon). In the last act of the film my wife expressed surprise that the couple were not married yet and I told her that this film was going to be over as soon as she finally said "yes." I was close on that score, because the film includes an important grace note and fade out that says it all. But even if you knew nothing about their legendary love it would be clear from the opening scenes of this movie when a young J.R. Cash and his brother Jack are listening to young June Carter singing on the radio.
What I liked about "Walk the Line" was that even knowing the key threads of the story, all of which are cinematic commonplaces, the screenplay by writer Gill Dennis and director James Mangold delivers memorable scenes. One thread is how Cash became the Man in Black, and when he blows his audition in front of Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts), the legendary head of Sun Records in Memphis gives him a slim second chance with a dead on speech as to how Cash needs to be singing songs. Cash happens to have been inspired by a film about a prison in California to write a song, and he starts to sing it and changes before our eyes and ears. Cash and his father, Ray (Robert Patrick), have been at odds since a childhood tragedy and we wait for the moment when the son will finally tell the father off. But when it comes Cash is still living in a glass house and the tables do not get turned.
"Walk the Line" saves the best for last. The famous concert at Folsom Prison is the first of two significant payoffs, as it represents Cash finally embodying his songs and not simply singing them. The connection between Cash and his audience changed then and he finally became a man. But that was not enough for June who has been refusing all of his proposals. When his family could do nothing to save Cash from his drug addiction, it is June and her family who step in, however she makes it clear that she will sing with him but she will not marry him. Now, most of us remember the lady as June Carter Cash, so we know that she is going to say yes. What is important is that it clearly will take something special for her to consent, and this film comes up with a moment worthy of their relationship and out anticipation.
Phoenix and Witherspoon do their own singing and what is key is not that they imitate Johnny and June but that they capture their hearts, which is a good thing in a romance, even when it also happens to be a bio-pic. During the final credits we finally hear the real Johnny and June singing as they take their curtain call. But when their voices fade away and we return to the plaintive guitar pickin' of T-Bone Burnett our thoughts return to Lynne's lovely elegy:
"Now were starting over it's the place that we are
You look more than pretty underneath all the stars
Love, love is a burning thing
Oh how I still love to hear you sing
And everything we ever heard about heaven is true
Today's the day that Johnny met June
Today's the day that Johnny met June."
I have always enjoyed both Johnny and June. However, I was not too interested in their lives. In addition, I have to admit that this film was a bit depressing at first. It reminded me too much of Steinbeck. I started to question my purchase when before I could finish the thought, I was sucked into their life and this movie. This adds a new perspective on the classic songs. We see that they were just people and subject to personalities and environments as we, all are.
You will find these songs going through your head days after viewing this movie. Note at the ending credits the real thing as the real duo sings "Long Legged Guitar Pickin' Man"
on February 28, 2006
IT WAS GREAT.MY ONLY REASON FOR NOT GIVING IT A 5 STAR..
THE MOVIE ONLY WENT UP TO WHEN THEY GOT MARRIED.
JOHNNY TO ME, IS BEST REMEMBERED FOR WHAT HE DID AFTER HE MARRIED JUNE.
ALL THOSE YEAR,WHICH WERE WHEN HE WAS AT HIS BEST,ARE NOT INCLUDED,SO THE CURRENT GENERATION DOES NOT SEE THE GOOD THAT HE DID FOR ALMOST 30 PLUS YEAR.....