Is it Johnny Cash’s fault that his life fulfills all the rock star cliches? He helped write half the cliches, so no. (I mean clearly it is his fault for taking the drugs and being on the whole a bit of a bastard for so long, but that is not the conclusion of Walk The Line). Instead Walk The Line blames squarely the following for Johnny’s demons
-Death of “Better” brother
-Drunken Dad, (who in the scale of abusive parents is actually quite nice and just had it a bit hard really cos they were poor)
-Wife not completely with the rockstar program
-Being infatuated with an unobtainable woman.
So let’s go apillpoppin’. Luckily in its last quarter the film does do a slight volte face and go all “poor me” on Cash (which also ties up the father reconciliation nicely). So Joaquim Phoenix therefore has two jobs to do. A servicable Johnny Cash impression (whom he plays pretty but well), and a total loser buffetted by the tides of teeny, tiny knockbacks. He convinces: but without Witherspoon’s June Carter the film would be just a petulant kid throwing his toys out of the pram. Witherspoon’s Carter impression is rubbish, but she gets the spirit just right, and she is clearly the moral centre of the film (it is her who makes all the real decisions).
The bottom line though, this is a film which relishes being a musical, and the music is good. You are convinced by Phoenix’s Cash when he is singing (even if his voice isn’t quite gravelly enough), and Witherspoon comes along just when you get a bit bored of the chugging. This is a performance film, and worth the turgid life bits for the concert pieces.
Oh, and also worth it to watch Cash writing Fulsom Prison Blues, scrubbing out rubbish lyrics. And Carter’s original lyrics for Ring Of Fire – hoo boy. You though the gestation of Can’t Fight The Moonlight in Coyote Ugly was funny? This is better.