Walk The Line (DVD)

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Walk The Line (DVD)

Primarily the story of the love that grew between country stars Johnny Cash and June Carter during the early years of Cash's career, WALK THE LINE is ...

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Review of "Walk The Line (DVD)"

published 07/07/2009 | Praski
Member since : 17/01/2009
Reviews : 287
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Excellent
Pro A Fascinating Insight into Johnny Cash's Life
Cons I Can't Think of Any
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"How high is the water Mama..............?"

When I was a kid I often used to hear Johnny Cash's braying voice, blurting out from Dad's radiogram but I never knew a lot about the tall, lanky figure, dressed in black with a chiselled chin and a voice as deep and raw as the ocean.

Until my sister sent me a DVD Called, Walk the Line. James Mangold's movie tells many great stories of Cash's strange and interesting life. He has fused together several meetings, conversations and two autobiographies and the end result is an engaging account of the first part of Cash's life.

The film begins at one of Cash's major concerts, the Folsom Prison gig in 1968 but within minutes we are whisked away to Arkansas in the year of 1944. Here we see JR as Cash was known, as a kid, with his brother Jack working hard in the cotton fields. The two kids work hard but also have fun like most kids do. They like to fish and play and as much as they try to please their father they are always disappointed as he is a mean and miserable Bible punching man. Although, he favours Jack as a son because he is a good student of the Lord. This becomes clear when there is a terrible accident and Jack is tragically killed. Cash is immediately distraught over the loss of his brother and what makes matters worse is his father's cruelty towards him. His father truly believes that the Lord has taken the wrong son. Cash's grief and sorrow become a catalyst for his artistic achievements but also his obsessive, addictive behaviour.

The following frames then introduce us to Joaquin Phoenix as the famous singer. This young actor does an excellent job of portraying Cash's mannerisms even down to the way he holds the guitar high and twitches and turns around. We see the gradual transformation from the youthful Cash who is a little nervous and loses his voice every now and again to the skilfull, guitar hurling rogue. At times I closed my eyes and I couldn't differentiate between the real Cash and Phoenix's voice. He was that good.

Cash then tolerates a period of time in the US Airforce before moving to Memphis Tennesse where he takes up a position as a salesman during the day and in the evening he changes into a talented gospel singer. The evening stint with the gospel choir doesn't go down to well with the newly married Mrs Cash and here we see seeds of unrest.

Eventually Cash has an audition with the great Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) who is the producer for Sun records. You may remember he was the guy responsible for the launching of Presley's career and recodred his first single, 'I' m alright Mama.' Cash plays him a traditional gospel number but Phillips shows no passion for the song and asks him to come up with something a bit more original. The two don't see eye to eye in the beginning but Phillips perseveres and eventually persuades Cash to write a song with true gut feeling and one form the heart. This is when we hear Folsom Prison Blues and the rest of the film sets out to show us just how enigmatic Cash was and how rich and fascinating his life story is.

Mangold's film uses a group of aspiring singer/songwriters to portray artists who toured with Cash during the Sun Records hey-day. Such performers as Presley, Orbison and Jerry lee Lewis were portrayed to create an interesting and fascinating time in the history of music. Although, the actors representations were credible and superb to watch, not one of them was as good as the legends they portrayed.

What comes across in Phoenix's performance is the sheer enjoyment of his performances. Once on stage and in front of an audience it's as if some mad demon takes over. We also see the boredom of being a star. All the trapsing around from town to town, carrying their own equipment. We see how a group of young lads get involved with drugs and booze and women to keep the lonely nights and exhaustion at bay. In one scene we see how Cash's addiction to amphetamines is ignited. He is exhausted with the endles journeys and needs something to keep him awake for the next performance. This is the start of his roller coaster addiction which haunts him for most of his life and destroys his first marriage.

On an early tour, Cash meets his all time favourite member of the famous country singing family - June Carter. She is the daughter of Ezra and Mabel Carter. June has sung since she was a nipper and Johnny remembers listening to her when he was a small boy. On the tour they become good friends and form a very successful musical duo which is magical to watch the pair of them perform. Gradually, they fall deeply in love but this relationship is put on hold due to other things that are happening in each of their lives.

This prolonged romance is the emotional core of Walk the Line and the magical chemistry between both actors had me caring about what happened to them and wanting everything to work out okay through the years of tours and performances and of course, all the demons that went with their lifestyle.

June was a very religious person and her roots were firmly planted in the Bible. Her beliefs and Cash's determination to discover his lost self are the two things that save his life. Although, we only see a glimpse of Cash's own transformation near to the end of the film, we know the fundamentals are there and the foundation has been laid.

Reece Witherspoon gives a solid performance as June. Her singing is perfect. I love her bold, spirited, won't take no for an answer performance and she proves to me just what a brilliant actress and good vocalist she is. The film shows several concerts which I really enjoyed and didn't feel that these disturbed the flow of the film in any way. I thought the concert performances moved the plot on and it was interesting to see the characters of Cash and Carter shine through in the chemistry of Phoenix and Witherspoon as they sang together. I think the production of the musical score by T Bone Bennett was superb and I have to give him credit for his work.

This is a biopic and in lots of ways the film is very conventional. What makes the movie for me is Phoenix' s superb performance as Cash and the way he played out his compelling life story. My attention never faltered throughout the film. After ten minutes into the film I had forgotten that Phoenix was an actor playing a role. He was the man dressed in black with his guitar held high and a big chip on his shoulder. He was Johnny Cash.

The cinematography is standard. There are no flashy camera angles, quick fast editing or fancy narratives. This is a film about a country boy who could play a few chords on his guitar and had a voice that people took notice of. He was once troubled and lost his way as we all sometimes do. He was one of the lucky ones because June Carter changed his life. With her trust and love he was able to re-discover his true self and became an icon the world over. A bit of an old fashioned film with an old fashioned story but hey, who cares. A really good film and two fantastic performances from Phoenix and Witherspoon. Highly Recommended.

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Rating PG13 - for bad language and the depiction of drug abuse. I think this rating is correct. The language isn't too strong and the depiction of drug abuse is necessary to get the point of Cash's addiction and obsessive behaviour across to the audience. It isn't there to create melodrama.

Summary: A great film with great music and two fantastic lead actors

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Comments on this review

  • Soho_Black published 19/03/2011
    You've posted this as a DVD review, but not mentioned the DVD features. Are there any extras, what are they and are they any good? You can change it to be posted as a "Film Only" review by accessing "edit review" above the review and changing the drop down menu under the "Which format are you reviewing?" question.
  • debmercury published 16/08/2009
    Well reviewed my Dad was a big Johnny Cash fan and I love this movie :o) x
  • suehome published 30/07/2009
    Fascinating review, you have really got me interested in Cash the man, something I had never considered before, thanks.........Sue
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Product Information : Walk The Line (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Primarily the story of the love that grew between country stars Johnny Cash and June Carter during the early years of Cash's career, WALK THE LINE is the result of intense collaboration between director James Mangold, co-writer Gill Dennis, Johnny Cash, and June Carter Cash. Though both Cashes died in 2003, they oversaw the script's development for seven years. Mangold and Cash's insistence that the film's stars would actually sing paid off. Witherspoon's singing (as June) is lovely, and Phoenix's contains the raw energy and soul that defined Cash's sound. Even as a child on a cotton farm in Depression-era Arkansas, Cash shows a strong interest in music, escaping from his no-frills life and strict father (Robert Patrick) through hymns and listening to the radio. When his brother dies in a freak accident, young Johnny feels responsible, and worries that he will never live up to his brother's goodness. The film follows Cash through his first marriage with Vivian Cash (Ginnifer Goodwin) and into the early stages of his touring career alongside such musicians as Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, and most importantly, June Carter. As Cash's success grows, so does his relationship with drugs, alcohol, and Carter, putting a strain upon his family life. From his initial audition with Sam Phillips of Sun Records on through his legendary 1968 concert at Folsom Prison, Cash is transformed from a hesitant singer riddled with demons to a man whose uniquely bold style would make music history. WALK THE LINE never attempts to paint a full picture of Cash's prolific career, but instead focuses on the passions that drove his music and on the woman who gave him strength. With magical performances by Witherspoon and Phoenix, a haunting and inspiring American romance is brought beautifully to life.

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