Friday, November 25, 2005

Film review #1 - Walk the Line

This will be a very very occasional series as I don't enjoy going to the cinema and I don't enjoy Hollywood movies. I went to see Walk the Line as part of Thanksgiving, here are some thoughts

Walk the Line

Hey, this film is a Bildungsroman of Johnny Cash. We begin with him and his brother Jack crouched around a radio set, listening to the Carter Family. And then Jack dies in an accident, Jack, The Good Son, his father's favourite, casting a shadow that lasts for the whole film (minus the last minute, where in Hollywood fashion, everyone suddenly forgets all the pain and is happy, something that does a disservice to both the audience's intelligence and a film that purports to having artistic integrity).
So Jack dies and the next minute Johnny Cash is a young man leaving for war. Yes, he goes from 12 to being a young man ready for war with such an abrupt jump that you think a scene has been deleted. He now has siblings who have suddenly arrived and that require a brief Columbo style pondering to explain.
Johnny conducts a love affair from his German army base with a woman who just never seems right. On his return they marry, start a family, and Johnny replays the poverty of his childhood by his own failure to attend to daily life, his heart set on being a recording artist.
There's a stirring scene of Johnny at Sun Studios in Memphis, auditioning, and a deal is duly made.
What follows, as Cash's star rises, is a mix of recreated concerts (these being excellent), pill-popping, and knocking around with Roy Orbison, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the to-be love of his life, June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), who is not a temptress, but a beguiling presence whose own tumultuous love-life (numerous failed marriages in time divorce was frowned upon) never seems to dovetail with Johnny's situation.
Eventually, it works itself out, through all the lows.
We flip back to where the movie opened, the story having been in flashback, with Johnny's return to Folsom Prison where he once spent a brief time. Cash delivers a set to the inmates that bestows a gift of grace upon artist and audience alike.

Phoenix is good as Cash and his portrayal is never simple. Cash is not beast and angel as he alternates between sobriety and addiction, between groupie-sex and the pretence of his marriage. Neither is Cash excused his excesses, excesses that as a Christian man he fully expects to answer for. Instead, we see a human being struggling to find peace with himself, hurting himself and those around him in the process, still raging at the loss of his brother and beset by the coldness of a father who alone refuses to recognise his success. At the end of this broken trail, with his wife and children lost, Cash brings his life and performing career back into focus through the power of his love for June Carter. Reese Witherspoon is excellent as the bouncy, happy, June, a star since childhood, a dedicated professional and talented performer, who herself has been overshadowed by her more illustrious siblings (just as Johnny lives in Jack's shadow). If the wait for Johnny and June to come together takes a whole movie, it is worth the wait, the pain that has preceded it making it only more sweet.

If the film is any reflection of life, it is easy to imagine Cash as having sank into oblivion without June, she is the light in his dark world.

So, a touching love story with some good performances and excellent music. Catch it if you can.


Blogger banana said...

if there ever is such a thing, those two were soul mates.

i lived in nashville during the deaths of those two. much surprise when june predeceased johnny.

and when johnny died shortly after june, there was a sense of peace in nashville; but also the skies over nashville were heavy with sadness.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous chris said...

I was watching Johnny Cash Riding the Rails the other night and was not hopeful- I thought it would be a tedious documentary which just happend to have Johnny Cash in it. It was however one of the most touching things films I have seen in years- and even the phrase the 'robber barons' was used at one point. More people should use the phrase 'robber barons'.

9:08 AM  

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