RogerBW's Blog

Walk the Line (2005) 03 October 2022

2005 biopic, dir. James Mangold, Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon: IMDb / allmovie. Hello. I'm Johnny Cash.

Any biopic, in its effort to make a coherent story out of the messiness of real life, has to simplify and condense things into an individual narrative. Biopics of living or recently dead people get more complicated; often people who are or who knew the subject want some degree of creative control in return for their inside information, and what would already have been a basically positive depiction becomes more so.

In this case, I can't point at things that are grossly wrong… but I can't help noticing that Cash's first wife Vivian as depicted here, apart from the usual Doesn't Understand His Art (because she wants him to get on with providing for the children rather than noodling around on the guitar), is the only one of the three principals allowed to age. Ginnifer Goodwin gradually looks older and more haggard, while Phoenix and Witherspoon carry on looking just the same.

It probably doesn't help that the only other role in which I've seen Phoenix is Gladiator, from a few years earlier, and here he has just that same mean dissipated smoulder, the one that treats everyone else as objects to be arranged for his enjoyment and is going to lash out at the slightest obstacle. I can certainly believe in Mean Addict Cash as depicted here; I'm less convinced by Reformed Cash, especially since the last thing we see him do is appeal to June's consummate stagecraft by holding a live show hostage until she agrees to marry him. Maybe the real man was spontaneous and genuine when he did that; the one we see here looks cold and calculating.

So those are two strikes against it, which is a shame, because the rest of it is pretty good. Phoenix's physical acting is excellent (there's an early moment in which he manages an awkward walk in which one can see the seeds of what will become the swagger), and both he and Witherspoon deliver the songs in a way that's satisfying to someone like me who's heard a lot of the classic performances. Druggie Cash is convincingly wheedling and pretending he's all better now. It's also pleasing to see the treatment of music in an era when "country" wasn't rigidly segmented away from everything else, and when Cash really could casually run into Jerry Lee Lewis or Otis Redding or this Elvis kid.

The film is 136 minutes as released, but never felt long to me. Not brilliant, and I don't suppose I'll rush to watch it again, but I'll listen to the soundtrack.

If you want more of my witterings, you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

See also:
My Darling Vivian (2020)

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