Dallas Roberts, Shelby Lynne
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
fter sitting through a grab bag of biopics last year ranging from the noteworthy “Aviator” to the over-hyped “Ray,” it’s nice to see a film that actually delivers justice to its subject. Howard Hughes will forever be remembered as a complete nut job, regardless of the advances he made in the world of aviation, and Ray Charles has probably lost a good deal of respect from fans after finding out about his drug-laced, adulterating lifestyle. Still, while Johnny Cash was no angel himself, his troubles are much easier to forgive with the serene Joaquin Phoenix behind the musician’s trademark shades and Reese Witherspoon by his side.
Based on Cash’s memoirs, “Man in Black” and “Cash: The Autobiography,” director James Mangold chronicles the life of the famed musician (Phoenix) from his days growing up on his father’s (Robert Patrick) cotton fields to his legendary performance at Folsom Prison in a well-paced feature that actually focuses more on his relationship with second wife June Carter (Witherspoon) than his music. The film makes quick mention of his days in the Air Force and his first marriage to Vivian Liberto (Ginnifer Goodwin), but a bulk of the story takes place following his audition for producer Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Before long, Cash was headlining a major tour that included other musical icons like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, but a struggle with drug addiction threatened his career in the mid 1960’s before transforming into the legend he is today.
Curiously, “Walk the Line” isn’t as powerful of a film as you would expect from a potential Oscar winner, but the lead performances are more than enough reason to check out this picture. Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely mesmerizing as the late Johnny Cash, and is not only a dead ringer for the Man in Black physically, but also vocally. It’s no surprise that the real life Cash hand-picked Phoenix to play the role before passing in 2003, but the actor’s dedication goes much further, including singing all of the songs himself as well as learning to play guitar. Witherspoon is equally enchanting as June Carter, who also did all of her singing, and interestingly enough, was rumored to have been selected by the real-life Carter to portray.
Suffice if to say that both Cash and Carter couldn’t have known themselves any better, with both actors delivering award-worthy performances that won’t be forgotten come Oscar time. And yet, despite the out-of-the-park portrayal of the musician couple, you’d be hard-pressed to recommend this film to just anyone. This is the kind of material strictly manufactured for critical attention, and while it’ll likely be one of the best reviewed films of the year, it’s nothing that the average moviegoer couldn’t go without seeing. Then again, it’s hard to resist not enjoying a film about one of the most prolific musicians of our time, and if nothing else, "Walk the Line" will have you binging on Cash’s greatest hits through the end of the year.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
After countless editions on DVD, “Walk the Line” makes the jump to Blu-ray with a solid 1080p video transfer and an even better 5.1 DTS-HD audio track. As for the bonus material, only those that appeared on the collector’s edition are included, like director James Mangold's audio commentary, the making-of doc “Celebrating the Man in Black,” and the “Ring of Fire” and “Cash & the Comeback” featurettes. Rounding out the set are three extended musical sequences (though it would have been nice if Fox had included all eight) and a collection of ten deleted scenes.