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Movie Review: Walk the Line

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One would assume that with the recent influx of musical bio-pics (Ray and Beyond the Sea), the rise-fall-rise formula – tweaked with infidelity, drugs, and music – would become stale. However, Walk the Line does the two-step around both Ray and Beyond the Sea by incorporating the heartfelt love story of June Carter and Johnny Cash. Under James Mangold’s direction, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon dish out two faultless character portraits. These nominee-worthy actors’ ability to cover Cash and Carter’s classic hits elevate Walk the Line’s entertainment value to plentiful.

The film chronicles the life of the country music legend John R. Cash. Born in Arkansas on a cotton farm, Johnny lived through the death of his older brother Jack (Lucas Till), and was told by his father Ray (Robert Patrick) that God took the wrong son. After spending a good amount of time in the armed forces and with his wife Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), Johnny finally gets his break. He auditions for Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, and before he can say “sarsaparilla,” he is aboard a tour with the likes of June Carter. Johnny quickly takes a liking to Miss Carter and thoroughly desires to be with her. However, a few things – their marriages, children, and Johnny’s drug addiction – stand in the way.

Phoenix and Witherspoon provide spirited and sharpened images of their characters and belt out their own unflawed vocals. Yes, Joaquin does stumble a bit vocally when singing in the airport hanger, but just like a developing singer, with time and a microphone he becomes, “steady like a train…and sharp like a razor.” While Phoenix’s portrayal of Cash is not as impressive as Jamie Foxx’s Ray Charles, Phoenix still does his own singing (unlike Foxx) — making Phoenix’s performance an honest and capable (but failed) bid to take home the “Best Actor” prize. As for Witherspoon, it is a pleasure to see her turn towards more serious acting; she cannot be unsuccessful with such respectable and dynamic roles like this one.

In conjunction with Phoenix and Witherspoon, Robert Patrick plays Johnny’s stern and unsupportive father with the perfect intensity. Ginnifer Goodwin also adds a nice touch to the cast, although her role is limited. In addition, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Malloy Payne, Johnathan Rice, and Shooter Jennings all cover the parts of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Waylon Jennings respectively with looks of steel and personalities of gold.

Overall, Walk the Line is a finely told tale of the pangs of Cash and Carter’s love for one another and one of the better bio-pics of recent past. This musical bio-drama makes you want to strap on a guitar, slick back your hair, and go find every chart of music that bears Cash’s name. With its hub of the story centered on the two friends and soul mates, who truly loved making music together, Walk the Line rises above its formula. It is an authentic love story driven by raw human emotion and one of the better pictures of the year.

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About Brandon Valentine