International Writers Magazin : DVD Review
Starring Joaquin Pheonix and Reese Witherspoon
Directed by James Mangold
Written by Gill Dennis and James Mangold
1952, Citroens line the streets in Germany and Chevys line
the streets of America when a young Johnny Cash returns home to
Memphis after finishing active service. Brand new Fenders are in
the music shops after the birth of the fully electric guitar and
Women are wearing patterned knee length dresses.
men, Cash included, are struggling to find work, whilst the rest of
America is indulging in a post war consumerist boom. Cash is caught
up in this need for money to support a young family whilst all he wants
to do is play and sing. There is a moral message here though. Johnny
Cash and his young wife Valeries relationship quickly deteriorate
as Cashs career blossoms and he hits the road. He states "I
got you your dream house
all of these pretty little things",
however they still cant save his marriage. As Cash becomes more
famous his life starts to spiral. Johnny Cash becomes one of the first
to tread the treacherous path of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
Throughout all this Joaquin Phoenix does a good job in the lead role.
His voice is convincingly amateur during his earlier years but is also
excellent later when Johnny Cash becomes a big star, singing such hits
as Folsom Prison Blues and Ring of Fire. Similarly
Reese Witherspoon is well cast as June Carter, singing and acting excellently.
Both of the actors won Oscars for their performances. It was slightly
disconcerting that neither Johnny nor June seemed to age between the
war years and the infamous Folsom Prison gig of 1968. Still, maybe this
was better than the inadequate ageing makeup or computer generated lines
which might have detracted from the acting.
The soundtrack is, as you might expect, littered with Johnny Cash songs
and a few others from white American rock and rollers. Even a young
Elvis features a brief appearance. It was interesting to see that there
was barely a reference at all to black culture in the 50s bearing
in mind that rock and roll grow out of black roots music.
At first I took for granted the extramarital sex that Johnny Cash was
having, as now it seems an integral part of a widely accepted rock and
roll lifestyle. However, Walk the Line brings into perspective
the religious and emotional consequences that this would have in the
50s and 60s. June Carter divorces her husband and even in
the liberal post-war years the social stigma is uncomfortable. After
being approached by a woman in a shop who states accusingly in her deep
southern voice marriage is for life, June doubts her own
morals in having sex with Cash out of wedlock.
By the end of the film I was still not convinced that I liked Johnny
Cash. However I enjoyed the fact that this was not just a candid account
of his rise to fame. The dirt and grit made the story compelling and
I did feel like I had learnt something both about the man and the era.
The film was written from Johnny Cashs biography. If nothing else
this film is sure to shift a lot of Johnny Cashs albums of the
record store shelves. I would recommend watching the film even if you
are not a Cash fan.
Callum Graham November 2008
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