Walk the Line
starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Godwin, Robert Partick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Mieer, Larry Bagby and Shelby Lynne
written by Gill Dennis and James Mangold
directed by James Mangold
Based on Johnny Cash’s (died 2003) two autobiographies, Man in Black and Cash the Autobiography, this is an excellent film that you must see. I doubt it will be as great a success as a rental DVD in Japan than in America, simply because the Man in Black is much less well known here.
Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator) did his own singing in this film. I don’t know if he did his own guitar playing as well, but I hope he did. His performance is superb. More than the straight acting segments of the story, the performance sequences are captivating. I watched and re-watched those scenes many times - especially the famous Folsom Prison live concert scene (1968) - studying every aspect of Joaquin’s Johnny Cash: how he walked on and off the stage, how he moved on stage, how he fidgeted, his facial expressions, how he spoke to people - his band mates and the audience - how he held his guitar and his guitar pick, what he did with his fingers (i.e. was he genuinely playing the instrument?), etc.
Other actors also performed their own songs: Reese Witherspoon herself sang all the June Carter tunes; Tyler Hilton sang as Elvis; Waylon Malloy Payne sang as Jerry Lee Lewis; Jonathan Rice sang as Roy Orbison; and, Shooter Jennings sang as Waylon Jennings. Those names are quite a review of pre-British Invasion American pioneer rock ‘n roll pioneers.
Sometimes directors write themselves into their own films in small cameo roles. Alfred Hitchcock did it repeatedly as a joke, but others have done as well. But this is the first time that I have seen the film producer - actor Stacie Keach’s brother, James Keach - appear in a cameo. He was the Warden of Folsom Prison in 1968. Interesting.
The climax of the film was the concert at Folsom Prison. It was excellent and I really wish that more footage was included in the final cut. Walk the Line features Cash’s struggle with drugs just like other films do about famous musicians. Recently, Ray (Jamie Foxx) comes to mind. However, it is fairly known that Johnny Cash was a hard core drug addict and Walk the Line doesn’t feature it nearly as much as it probably ought to. Instead, we are woven a story of the man’s life that contains a little of his childhood poverty, a little of his Air Force experience, a little of his married life, a little of his performance life, and a lot of his relationship with June Carter.
Johnny Cash owns the epithet “Man in Black.” But I come from a different generation and genre of music fan, and for me the real Man in Black is Canadian singer Leonard Cohen.