Going into Walk the Line it’s fair to say I knew nothing about Johnny Cash other than the Ring of Fire song and one of my more eccentric school friends who was into his music while most other kids were reading Smash Hits and watching Top of the Pops! So I wasn’t sure what to expect and how the movie would affect me, and like most of the prospective audience I was attracted by awards hype, reviews and the always strong Joaquin Phoenix.
I was also lucky enough to see the screening in the Gold Class of the cinema when no other Press has turned up until fifteen minutes into the movie. So the extended introduction of Walk the Line reverberating through the underseat base and the wonderfully filmed opening sequence projected onto the huge screen really hit me with force. The opening is both visually and audibly superb. Building tension, setting the tone perfectly for the movie, and defining the circular nature of the storyline.
That’s one of the excellent things about this movie, the story. It’s superbly written and brought to the screen. A cliffhanging moment of tension created from the outset using visuals of Fulsom Prison, the Walk the Line introduction and no real words. I have to say this is one of the best movie opening sequences I’ve seen in a long time. Powerful and attention grabbing from the first second.
The entire movie is beautifully filmed and visualised, recreating the era with ease and taking you to those moments even if you haven’t lived through them or were even born. It’s full of well framed shots often with a slow moving tracking move, giving it a very natural and authentic feel. None of the filming or set-ups are anything more than is required and never pulls you out of the movie.
Then there’s the music, music I was just not aware of, which makes its affect on me even more astounding. I’m now singing Cash songs in my head, the day after the movie and I’m awaiting arrival of some of his records. I now may well be a Cash fan, and that’s through both the music of Cash and the performance and singing of Pheonix.
It’s something that should never be a great consideration for acting talent though. If he or Reese Witherspoon had mimed their way through this movie would their acting performances be any less? I doubt so. However they do sing all the songs and authentic or not they are excellent and convincing performances. Hence the soundtrack release with their own recordings.
Singing aside their performances as actors are amazing and the chemistry between them is as real as anything I’ve seen or experienced.
Pheonix gives a stunning performance of intensity and burning passion. He’s a totally tormented character and to be quite frank, thoroughly unlikable in the movie, yet you are drawn to his performance and find a connection through his suffering, redemption and through the relationship with June Carter played by Witherspoon.
She also gives an emotionally charged performance, one which is worthy of her accolades and awards. Yet I can’t understand why Pheonix has not been as recognised. In my eyes his performance is the winner in this film, but she successfully casts off any of her previous light roles and proves she is a real actress of weight and stature.
Robert Patrick is also well cast and gives a powerful performance as the father of Cash. He starts as a drunk but then gives through to a hard and unyielding man. It’s a similar performance to his Terminator role, although much more human! Seriously though, he does pull off the role well and set against Pheonix you feel the tension hurtling off screen.
There are some very notable scenes between the three of them. When Pheonix as Cash discusses his dead brother with Carter it’s a strong and emotionally poignant moment. A scene in direct contrast to this is the Thanksgiving stand off against his Father which explains so much about the character of Cash and indeed of his abuse of himself. In fact this movie does help to show you how someone can come to abuse themselves through such things as drugs and alcohol. His journey through this common and often misunderstood path is clearly shown and explained through clever and intelligent writing, direction and performances.
Overall it’s a strong and emotional movie filled with excellent characterisations and performances. The story is very well written and transferred of screen. However it’s not entirely without issue.
The sequences of touring felt slightly longer than necessary and although the on stage performances were great with some excellent songs, I did feel that similar ground was being covered in the later stages.
Still, through these scenes the relationship between him, his family, wife and Witherspoon continue to be built upon and it does leave with a good understanding of them all.
The ending does seem to fill you with some level of twee-ness but there is absolutely no arguing with it – it’s factually based and I’ve heard that this couples love for each other was that strong a bond.
Without a doubt I’d recommend this movie even if you aren’t a Cash fan or have no idea what his music is like. For the first time in a long time I actually want to go and see a movie a second time. Well worth watching.