Every year around award season there are a slew of biopics released, because these films more than any other seem to inspire acting nominations. The only thing that increases the chances are music biopics, which is why there was a great deal of talk when word got around that Joaquin Phoenix would be playing the guitar and singing in the film based n Johnny Cash’s musical career, Walk the Line. Anyone who knows the history of Johnny Cash may have been very excited about this film, but I was a skeptic so soon after Ray. The similarities between the lives of these two is astounding, but I had no urge to see the same film twice, no matter how good the performances. Both were scarred at a young age by the loss of a brother in tragic accidents, both struggled with drugs, and both had a hard time remaining faithful to their wife. The difference which makes Walk the Line a great film, is that Johnny Cash may not be the hero in his own film. Instead it is clear that June Carter is the solid rock which Walk the Line can rely on, which is helped a great deal by Reese Witherspoon’s performance.
Johnny Cash tried to start his career singing gospel music, but he soon realized that his granite voice was better served singing dark songs written about prison, even though he had never been there himself. Walk the Line does its best to answer questions about Cash’s career, such as the meaning behind his songs or how he got the nickname “Man in Black”, but the film works best when it uses the power of storytelling. There might be essential elements from the plot missing, but because Walk the Line focuses on the romance between Johnny and June there is obvious direction in the story. There is a clear purpose and audiences are insured a happy conclusion. It is the same element which made another film in the best actress category work as well. Pride and Prejudice also knew how to make the audience want something, and then make them wait the remainder of the film to get it. Walk the Line lets us know early on that if we care at all for Johnny Cash, we must care for June. Then the film forces us to watch them unable to be together just to allow the tension to build. This is great filmmaking, whether it really happened this way or not.
As with all films based on a musical artist, it will help a great deal if you are a fan of the music, but Walk the Line has the ability to draw crowds that have never heard Johnny Cash. Because of the romance element, it is possible that audiences that hate country music may still enjoy the film. The same can not be said about many other films of this sort. Although the music is good, and
both do a great job singing and entertaining, the real magic comes from their
performances during the private moments. Although the music is certain to push
one or both of them on stage to win an award, it was the rest of the film which
got them the nomination in the first place. Phoenix
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