Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon each give one of their best performances to date as Johnny Cash and June Carter. The performances from these actors and others such as Robert Patrick (as Cash's father) are what make this movie stand out. The story is moving and well-told, but it follows the by now clichéd rag-to-riches-to-drugs-to-rehab-to-renewed-fame "Behind the Music" pattern. Of course, it wouldn't be a cliché of rock star biopics if it were not true. Now, I am not an adept when it comes to the life of Cash so I am unsure how accurate the events depicted in the movie are. Certainly there were some dramatic licenses taken. It would be impossible to depict the complex life of such an icon as Johnny Cash entirely true to form. Likewise, I do not think any actor is capable of truly capturing just what made Cash Cash, but I cannot imagine anyone coming as close as Joaquin Phoenix.
The movie is framed by Cash’s legendary comeback concert at Folsom Prison. The pounding of the band and the prisoners creates a sense of excitement as the movie opens on a rowdy group of prisoners awaiting Cash to take the stage, and despite a lengthy (nearly the entire film) flashback between this opening and the actual performance, that excitement does not wane.
I cannot say anything about Phoenix’s and Witherspoon’s performances that has not already been said except they are more then worthy of all the praise they have been getting. Ginnifer Goodwin is solid as Cash's first wife, Vivian. Robert Patrick (better known to us X-Philes as Agent Doggett) also gives one of his strongest performances as Johnny’s father, Ray. Patrick also played Elvis Presley’s father, Vernon, in last spring’s CBS mini-series “Elvis.” Speaking of Elvis, he’s in this movie too. When Cash first signs with Sam Phillip’s Sun Records, he goes on tour with other future legends such as Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Can you imagine seeing all of them in concert together like depicted in the film? I cannot fathom a better night of musical performances. Other musical icons make appearances in the film such as Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, and Maybelle Carter. The music of Cash and his contemporaries drives the film and it is performed amazingly well by the actors with no dubbing or “help” of any kind.
I was glad that the movie did not attempt to tell Cash’s entire life story in two and a half hours. Rather, it focuses on his rise to fame, struggles with drugs, and infatuation and pursuit of June. The movie makes us feel the pain that Johnny feels at the loss of his brother, the rejection of his father, the destruction of his own marriage, and his decent into drugs, but it also provides us with the elation that Johnny feels when he performs and the love he has for June. The movie ends much sooner in his life than I expected. In fact, I was so engrossed in it, that I did not realize so much time had passed. I had no idea we were near the end of the movie until the screen went black. I would have liked to have seen the film at least acknowledge Johnny’s rediscovery of his faith after he got cleaned up. He lived out the rest of his life as an awesome testimony to the power of Christ, but there is no hint of that in the movie.
I was very unsure if I even wanted to see this movie. I just was not sure if it would be good or not. The trailers did not really catch my attention, and all of the hype surrounding the performances was near the point of overload for me. However, the simple black and white poster intrigued me, and I am a fan of Phoenix so I decided to see it. I am so glad I did as this movie was one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.
I liked this movie a lot, too - especially appreciating the performances. I kind of liked that the movie ended about where it did, because it felt primarily like a love story to me and the last note was perfect as the last note to a love story. But you're right, they could have better acknowledged Cash's devotion to Christ after he quit drugs, since it was such an important part of him as a performer and person. They mentioned once or twice that his fan base were Christians, but never really explained why that was the case... though the clues were there, I guess.
So, you're and X-phile, too... I knew I liked you.
You know Brandon. . .this is a really cool blog that you have going on here. I COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY LOVED, LOVED "WALK THE LINE!" Maybe it's because I'm a music person. . .who knows. . .but I thought is was wonderful and Joaquin and Reese potrayed the characters to a tee!
I thought Witherspoon and Phoenix was were great. The singing was terrific. The movie kept me engrossed. However, I have been reading about how Vivian's children struggled with seeing this movie and how her one daughter, Kathy, walked out saying her mother was portrayed as unsupportive. I have to say I did feel a great deal of sympathy for Vivian and felt she was portrayed a bit negatively. While I could clearly see the love between June and Johnny it came at truly such a high price to others. The movie was exectuive produced by John and June's son, John Carter Cash, and his focus on was on the their love affair he had said but also agreed Kathy's criticisms had merit. Regardless of those criticisms it was a good movie. Still I cannot shake a feeling that we were supposed to be rooting for June and Johnny's love and for them to be married but I kept feeling sorry for the first family he mistreated and abandoned and cheated on. I give credit to Vivian for sticking it out. Wish she had been treated more respectfully in life and in the movie.