Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin
Director: James Mangold
Running Time: 136 mins
Walk The Line is an American film about the life of country music legend Johnny Cash, as he rose from humble beginnings to a rock-and-roll lifestyle in the middle of the 20th century.
I really enjoyed this film. Not only is it a riveting account of the fascinating life of Johnny Cash, but also a delightfully made movie that brings to life the greatest spirit and life of the music scene during the 1950s and 1960s, complete with strong performances, great music and a brilliant combination of powerful romance and drama to keep you engrossed from beginning to end.
Now, it make seem on the face of things that Walk The Line is little more than a normal Hollywood biopic. In all truth, that’s a fair assessment, as it follows the formula of the genre very closely. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a competent and still entertaining watch throughout, as it uses the brightest elements of music biopics to make a very energetic and riveting film, meaning that it works brilliantly both as an account of a great musician’s life, while also proving a sumptuous portrayal of the era.
And that’s what I really loved about this film. While Cash’s personal journey from rags to riches is fascinating and full of drama, it’s the general atmosphere of how the world of music (and the wider world in general) changed so much during the 50s and 60s, from a cutesy, innocent landscape to one filled with excess, drugs, and everything in between, summing up one of the world’s most important cultural changes brilliantly.
What’s more is that, with some fantastic production and costume design throughout, the film looks absolutely wonderful. The 1950s has always been one of my favourite eras to see portrayed on screen, and Walk The Line does a great job at capturing the vibrant, energetic, colourful and still blissfully innocent atmosphere of the decade, something that gives the film a really wonderful atmosphere early on.
And when we move into the 1960s, where things in Cash’s life become a lot darker, you see a similar shift in the film’s production and costume design, as we transition into a less vibrant and innocent scene when his life is taken over by drug addiction and personal crisis, something that really impressed me throughout.
Another big plus from this film is how it takes the central romance element of the biopic genre and make it work pretty much to perfection. Save for a slightly underwhelming conclusion to the story, the on-off love story between Johnny Cash and June Carter (played wonderfully by Reese Witherspoon) is absolutely fascinating to follow along, as we see the dashing music star, who would normally be the man to sweep the girl of her feet, be regularly outdone by Carter as she lives a calm and steady life, while he continues to descend further and further into despair with her always just out of his reach.
The performances are another one of the film’s best elements. Joaquin Phoenix gives a strong turn as Johnny Cash, and although there are some moments later on in the film that stray into overacting territory, he manages to portray Cash’s inner struggles during his times of crisis, whether it be his unrequited love for Carter, his relationship with his father or otherwise.
However, the best performance in the film has to be that of Reese Witherspoon, who plays June Carter, Cash’s love interest. At first, Witherspoon is truly wonderful as the cutesy country girl with a lot of spirit on stage, but as the film progresses, and her character matures at a far faster rate than Cash, her performance really stands out. Not only outshining Phoenix in all of the duo’s moments together, but also bringing great gravitas to her character where you wouldn’t expect it, she’s undoubtedly the stand-out of the whole movie, and one of the reasons that it’s such an entertaining watch.
Overall, I had a great time with Walk The Line. It may look on the outside like your everyday music biopic, but it details the rise and fall of a legendary musician over the course of a tumultuous two decades for the music industry and Western culture, furthered all the way by excellent directing, production and costume design, and excellent performances, which is why I’m giving it a 7.8.