Johnny Cash was a man of many sides, many lives and at least one death and one resurrection. The recently released movie of his life, "Walk the Line," somehow manages to capture all of this and more in a fast-paced movie that gets up close and personal without getting at all sentimental.
Joaquin Phoenix plays the title role with an almost uncanny characterization of one of the most recognizable and distinctive personalities in the history of American popular music. Phoenix not only looks the part, but sounds the part as he performs all the singing in the movie. He sings not so much in imitation of Cash, but in tribute to him; offering up a voice less rich, less gravelly and less ruined than the "Man In Black" himself, but no less heartfelt, intense or defiant.
Reese Witherspoon, in her role as Cash's extra-marital love interest June Carter, also turns out to possess a voice worthy of the legacy that June and the Carter family has represented to the world of Country Western music. Her bouncy, buoyant cheerfulness almost suffocates in saccharine sweetness until we discover a deeper, hurting side beneath the jokes and smiles.
Other supporting characters are developed to varying degrees. Rhe role of Cash's first wife, Vivian (played long-sufferingly yet tenderly by Ginnifer Goodwin), being especially important and effective in framing her husband's slow and painful collapse of character and common sense.
Dialogue is short and concise. What is unspoken is filled in by the context of scenes filled with the driving rhythm of music from such contemporary friends as Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
The photography captures the hot and faded world of the mid-1950s through to the late 1960s with an eerie and uncanny authenticity (having lived those years myself I can make that comment). The raw energy let loose by these trail-blazing performers rips through the cultural landscape like a tornado sweeping through a Tennessee cotton field.
Through the abuse of alcohol and drugs, Cash comes to a literal collapse of his career. After losing everything, including his wife and children, he tries one last time to impress his father, his mother and June Carter with the purchase of a house that is as empty yet as full of promise as his own life.
With the help of June and her parents, Cash is gently and lovingly led through his personal "valley of the shadow of death." His emergence from years of darkness into light leads him eventually to reclaim his talent and redirect it for the uplift and hope of others who have fallen from grace in the eyes of the world.