Walk the Line
Must be nice playing to such a “captive” audience.

Golden Mug

WINNER: Actress (Reese Witherspoon)

Theatrical Release Date: 11/18/2005
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Patrick, Ginnifer Goodwin

I fell into a burning ring of Reese Witherspoon. What? That’s not how it goes? Huh. Well, that may be the new chorus once the awards season is over thanks to the latest megastar musician biopic, “Walk the Line”.

Directed by James Mangold, the film is about the rise of Johnny Cash from obscurity, his battles with addiction, his strained relationship with an alcoholic father, and his love of June Carter. In other words, this movie is as formulaic as a VH1 Behind the Music.

Still, as paint by numbers as the movie is, the film still resonates with strong emotion and power thanks to its performances. The aforementioned Witherspoon plays June Carter, the love of Johnny’s life. Usually closer to romantic comedy territory, it’s nice to see Reese venture back towards serious roles (as partial as I am to her quirky and broken version of Little Red Riding Hood in “Freeway”). In “Walk The Line”, where Johnny Cash is the arms of the film, strumming along and bashing his way through life, June Carter is the heart and mind, helping to guide Cash’s career and life along.

Of course, acting is a give and take relationship and without Joaquin Phoenix playing Cash, perhaps Witherspoon’s performance would not have come off as well. Phoenix does an admirable job portraying Cash, diving far enough into the role to check himself into an addiction program in real life after filming stopped.

The biggest complaint I have is that during some of the addiction episodes, it felt less like Johnny Cash and more like previous roles he had done, most notably his character in “Buffalo Soldiers”. That said, he should also be in the front running for an acting nomination, though he’s not in quite the same company this year as Philip Seymour Hoffman or David Strathairn.

What also makes Phoenix and Witherspoon stand out is that they did all of their vocals for the film. Many people were fooled, thinking it was actually Cash himself. I noticed the difference in the voice on a number of occasions but it was so close that it is easily forgivable. The musical numbers are done superbly and elevate this film from the mediocrity it could have been due to its common biopic nature.

The supporting cast in wonderful as well, including Robert Patrick as Cash’s overbearing father and Ginnifer Goodwin as Cash’s first wife, Vivian. The actors who portray the Carter family are also to be commended for enriching and nurturing the overall health of this film.

The only complaint I have is the point at which the movie ends. I would have liked a more comprehensive look at Cash’s life and the ending further presses the film into its formulaic mold. That said, at a little over two hours, there wasn’t much time left to devote and I was pleased with the story that was put onto film.

“Walk the Line” receives a 4 out of 5. While “Ray” has more force and the singular drive of Jamie Foxx, this depiction of the early years of Johnny Cash deserves some recognition for not just being another musician’s biopic. It is expertly delivered by Mangold and should factor into the best of the year race.