DIRECTOR: JAMES MANGOLD
Rewatching “Walk the Line” again after a few years, I enjoyed seeing two performers sinking themselves in their roles. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon play Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash respectively. Phoenix won a Golden Globe for his work and Witherspoon, an Academy Award. Phoenix wasn’t too much of a leading man before this film and now he churns out character performances like Inherent Vice, The Master and Her. Witherspoon can do comedy however Walk the Line was the platform that steered her towards more dramatic leading performances.
Director James Mangold wants to tell a love story in this film. It is still a music biopic but underneath it there lies a film that shows tested love. Mangold shows a scene in the film where Cash is struggling to get a tractor out from his property’s muddy banks. His father Ray Cash ( Patrick) leaves in the car with his family and Carter ( Witherspoon) is about to jump in the backseat of the Carter Family’s vehicle when she hears..“You should go down there to him, June, He’s all mixed up.” Maybelle Carter says. June shakes her head explaining, “I am not goin’ down there, if I go down there..Maybelle interrupts stating “You’re already are down there, honey.” It is this scene that sums up what Walk the Line wants you to recognise. Two people attracted to each other, one with inner turmoil and stuck in the mud while the other is indecisive of what it means to her by helping him. What is in that mud? Johnny Cash has let himself be defined by every line of dialogue that his father says to him. We witness the death of his brother Jack which has led to a young Johnny Cash/ J.R having a chip on his shoulder being offended at everything, answering defensively to everyone.
The film follows Johnny Cash start his journey in life without his brother Jack, serving in military and writing songs with a guitar during service. Upon return to America, he is still aimless until he decides to audition for Sun Records with Christian Hymns. Another rejection. Sam Phillips wants originality and Cash proves that. While humble beginnings of his music talent are being realised, his wife Vivian Cash wants him and not his music.
While on tour with Sun records, Cash performs with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. His adoration and fascination with June Carter convinces him to ask her to tour with them and sparks fly.
This music biopic is nothing new because it deals with similar issues that every band or musician goes through. Finding out one has talent, wearing stardom, falls from grace whether it be from booze, drug or addiction and gaining back creditability. Prescription medication of amphetamines and barbiturates was Cash’s demon that drove loved ones away from him. Both Cash and Carter were in unfruitful marriages, Cash took pills to pull through and wrote songs about June during that time, while she attempted to take it day by day.
This film executes the music biopic well because it explores not only Cash but those around him too. Walk the Line is not distracted by Johnny Cash’s fame. The film zooms in on Cash’s character trying to deal with home life, his identity, what others think of him and his need to prove himself. Every time you watch this film something different can be taken away.
Cash’s father Ray Cash can be painted as the reason why Johnny Cash was the way he was but upon repeat viewing was it a father that gave up on a son who would not listen?
Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix were both vocally trained to perform for their roles and this lends itself to the believabilty of their performances. Walk the Line is one of those films you can go to like your favourite wine and have a glass knowing you’ll taste something different on your palette every time.
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash
Reese Witherspoon as June Carter
Robert Patrick as Ray Cash
Ginnifer Goodwin as Vivian Cash