Walk the Line - Ring of Fire
| At this point the musician biopic follows a pretty standard progression. Poverty stricken wunderkind pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps through determination, being in the right place at the right time and a whole lot of talent. They struggle with drugs, betray their loved ones but overcome all this because they are, well, just so loveable.
Like last year’s Ray, Walk the Line follows this predictable pattern but, also like that film, manages to rise above the clichés through strong writing, performances and film making.
There is a lot a buzz around Phoenix’s performance being Oscar worthy. This probably has less to do with how truly good he is at realizing Johnny Cash and creating a character that speaks to the audience and more to do with the similarities between Walk the Line and the aforementioned Ray which won Foxx and Oscar a year ago.
However one shouldn’t stop with the male lead. Witherspoon is equally strong as June Carter and reminds us that before she was Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama she was a real actress. Reminiscent of her work in Pleasantville and Election, Witherspoon’s performance is wonderful to watch.
Walk the Line is set up as a love story. On the one hand this seems a bit trite but in the mythology that is John and June, it works. It provides the backbone of the story and gives us something to follow while listening to the music.
Walk the Line is framed by sequences of Cash’s live recording at Folsom Prison, one of the best selling recordings of all time. The film does a good job of what this kind of film should do, celebrating the music of the man. Phoenix and Witherspoon do their own singing and manage not to bungle it. We loose ourselves in the magic of their music and are reminded of why the pair was among the best musicians of the last century.
Walk the Line also has what could well turn out to be my favourite line in any movie this year:
As his record company is trying to talk Cash out of recording a live album in a prison one rep points out that Cash’s fans are Christians who don’t want him singing to rapists and murderers to make them feel better. Cash responds, “Then they aren’t Christians.”