Walk the Line

on November 18, 2005 by Kevin Courrier
If "Ray" is a perfect example of a traditional Hollywood musical biography that is satisfying entertainment while making sense of the artist, "Walk the Line" is a good example of how it can go wrong. The story of country singer Johnny Cash, his rise to fame, the battle with pills, plus his recovery through the love and support of June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) isn't a disaster, but it's disappointing to those wanting to understand Johnny Cash's place in American music. Director James Mangold, who doesn't demonstrate much musical rhythm, puts most of his attention on the redemption of Cash. Many of Cash's great songs ("I Walk the Line," "Folsom Prison Blues") are present, but they seem more circumstantial than significant. Unlike "Ray," you don't get any clear sense of how Johnny Cash evolved as a country musician.

"Walk the Line" follows the conventional course of Cash's troubled childhood, where he loses his brother in an accident. It later depicts his drug and alcohol addiction. Mangold cleverly frames the story with Cash's historic 1968 concert in Folsom Prison, but he does little to illuminate its significance to the Man in Black. Joaquin Phoenix does his best to capture Cash, and he gets most of his trademark characteristics down. But Phoenix gets little help in capturing Cash's wary personality. When Cash is strung out on pills, for instance, the movie gets so amorphous and sluggish it's as if the director became as inebriated as Cash.

Reese Witherspoon manages to rise above the overall funk, giving a rousing and energetic performance. Witherspoon is able to collar June Carter's vivaciousness without ever once turning cute. She is so dynamic and capricious that if anybody walks the line in this picture, it's her. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin and Robert Patrick. Directed by James Mangold. Written by Gill Dennis and James Mangold. Produced by Cathy Konrad and James Keach. A Fox release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency. Running time: 135 min

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