Friday, June 16, 2006

Walk the Line

I have said it before in this blog. I do not like country music. A lot of you might then find a bit puzzling that I have been a fan of Johnny Cash since I was little. That having been said, while he is often classed as a country artist, I have never seen him as such--I count him as a folk artist myself. Of course, I suspect that even the most die hard country fan would have to admit that Johnny Cash is one of those artists who transcended genres.

Anyhow, given my love for the music of Johnny Cash, it was only a matter of time before I watched Walk the Line, the movie based on part of his life. Walk the Line covers events from his childhood to his proposal to the legendary June Carter. And while many biopics simply move from event A to event B without ever letting us see the man inside the character, Walk the Line lets us view not only Johnny Cash's inner demons, but June Carter's inner demons as well.

Indeed, Walk the Line is very much an actor's movie. Its strongest point is its performances. Even though Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon only vaguely resemble Johnny Cash and June Carter, they are wholly convincing in the parts. And their roles were anything but easy. Phoenix had to play the Man in Black, who for all his great talent also fell victim to equally powerful addictions. Witherspoon had to play June Carter, arguably the most famous bluegrass artist of all time, who not only fell in love with a deeply flawed man, but had the insight into him to realise that he could overcome his inner demons. That Phoenix and Witherspoon play their roles with total sincerity and without the slightest hint of melodrama is a major accomplishment. I very seriously doubt any other actors could done as well.

Of course, much of the credit also goes to the screenplay written by Gill Dennis and James Mangold. The writers eschewed the usual formula of biopics (ever notice in Hollywood's biopics how many actors and singers' mothers had to do laundry for a living...) for something much more enthralling--the truth. What is more they eschew the usual sentimentality and melodrama for a realistic portrayl of Cash's life. Most Johnny Cash fans will be familiar with the events which unfold in the movie, yet most people who watch this movie will be transfixed by the story nonetheless.

And it is quite a story. In the world of 20th century entertainment it seems to me that there were two great love stories: George Burns and Gracie Allen, and Johnny Cash and June Carter. While I do not believe in predestination, it seems to me that these are individuals who were meant for one another. By the time Johnny Cash and June Carter married, they had been friends for over a decade. And despite their weaknesses (which, in Cash's case, were considerable), the two had a good deal in common (both were nonconformists who were interested in a wide range of music and subject matter) and complimented each other perfectly. Indeed, I don't think anyone can deny that it was ulitmately June's love for John that saved his life from a world of drug addiction.

For those who are fans of Johnny Cash, this movie also had the great songs of the Man in Black. What is remarkable is that the performances are original. They are not dubbings of old recordings. Both Phoneix and Witherspoon did their own singing. That they sound almost exactly like Cash and Carter in nothing short of amazing.

I would recommend Walk the Line even for those people who are not fans of Johnny Cash. The movie is an interesting portrayl of a man who sunk to the lowest depths in his life, only to be saved by the woman who loves him. It is not only a great biopic, but a great romance as well.

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