Friday, November 11, 2005

WALK THE LINE - All hail The Man in Black

Years from now, pretentious film students will talk about James Mangold in the same hushed tones used to discuss Kubrick and Fellini. He has, so far, given us three Hollywood movies and all three* have been intelligent, emotionally involving, with flashes of black humour. First came COPLAND, a gritty thriller about corruption and integrity in which we discovered that Sly Stallone could actually act. Next came GIRL, INTERRUPTED, a story about young women with mental illnesses, in which we discovered that Angelina Jolie could act, and for which she won her Oscar. Now we get WALK THE LINE, a biopic of country singer, dope fiend and womaniser, Johnny Cash – a movie that is heavily and deservedly tipped for Oscars.

WALK THE LINE tells the real-life story of how Johnny Cash, one of the US’ most successful recording artists, fell in love with June Carter while still in an unhappy first marriage. Cash is played by Joaquin Phoenix, one of the best actors of his generation. Phoenix manages to combine a strong physical presence with emotional vulnerability. Sometimes this is sinister, as when he plays the murderous Commodus who just wants his father’s love in “Gladiator”. In WALK THE LINE, it is heart-breaking. Here is a man whose life is spinning out of control, and the only person who can save him, June Carter, is out of reach. I can only speculate as to how painful it was for Joaquin Phoenix to play Johnny Cash. Like Cash, Phoenix watched his own beloved brother, River Phoenix, die young and has suffered with alcoholism.

But for me, the real revelation was to see Reese Witherspoon playing June Carter. Gone in the bubblegum blonde from “Cruel Intentions” and “Legally Blonde”. Here, we have a woman whose bubbly stage persona hides a core of steel. She conveys the difficulties of growing up in the public eye and conducting a private life when your so-called adoring audience want you to live up to their unreasonably high expectations.

I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. I went into the cinema knowing nothing about Johnny Cash and caring not a jot about country music. The strength of this movie is that it engages you in a long and winding real life love story that is never sentimental or easy. That the two protagonists happen to be real life highly talented musicians just adds another couple of layers to an already complex and intriguing story. It is, in short, a triumph.

WALK THE LINE is released in the US on the 18th Novmeber2005, in Germany on the 2nd February 2006, in the UK on the 3rd February and in France on the 15th February.

*I am, charitably, ignoring the schmaltzy rom-com KATE AND LEOPOLD and the derivative thriller IDENTITY. After all, even Kubrick had EYES WIDE SHUT and The Beatles had THE WHITE ALBUM.


  1. Totally. I just saw it again in a press screening and my opinion is unchanged. It's great that a generation who only know Cash as the old dude who sang "Hurt" will get a sense of what he was like at his dangerous, powerful peak.

  2. loved it. can't believe he did his own singing (joaquin phoenix). that man can really act. asw for reese, she deserved the oscar. good for her. I don't know enough about johnny cash or country music, but that was one well done movie.