Saturday, April 15, 2006


Walk The LineJoaquin PhoenixDirected by James Mangold
Reviewed by Byron Merritt



My introduction to Johnny Cash’s music was when I was eight years old. My father started collecting his albums (8-tracks actually) and whenever we were on the road he’d pop one in and we’d listen to I Walk The Line or Ring Of Fire or Folsom Prison Blues; those were the main ones anyway. My dad wasn’t a big music fan back then – he was extremely selective – but Cash was his exception. Not knowing what Johnny’s music was all about, I really didn’t give much thought as to why my father should or shouldn’t like the singer (“He sings real good, doesn’t he Dad?” “Yes he does”). This might seem more like a family reminiscence on my part but humor me for just one more minute.

My father was pretty conservative: he paid his taxes on time without question, was a Marine, believed in the death penalty, enjoyed any kind of sports, and coached in a Pop-Warner football league.

Fast forward to this movie,
Walk The Line, and I have to wonder why my father felt so strongly for this man’s music. Johnny Cash was anything but conservative. Joaquin Phoenix’s excellent portrayal of Mr. Cash – from his humble beginnings on an Arkansas farm to his nearly fatal brush with amphetamine addiction – shows us all the flaws this incredibly gifted man had balled up inside him. He drank like a fish, womanized while on tour, supported better living standards for prison inmates (something my father would NEVER agree with), and enjoyed the rock-a-billy sounds that were just emerging onto the airwaves. Cash’s worldviews were fairly extreme and this spilled over into the lyrics for his songs (just listen to his best-selling At Folsom Prison album and you’ll see what I mean).

So what was it about Johnny Cash that pulled my dad into his fandom?

Well, this movie shows us. Johnny Cash’s voice (“Like a freight train coming ‘round a bend but sharp as a razor”) is hypnotic, and Mr. Phoenix deserves all of the notoriety he’s received for playing this role. It’s stunning to learn that Joaquin didn’t lip-sync any of the songs, but sung them all himself. And although Johnny Cash’s voice was a bit coarser and deeper, Mr. Phoenix should be congratulated for his singing talent. He amazed me.

The shining light in the movie, however, was Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. Who could’ve guessed that this Legally Blonde comedic talent could act so dramatically? Her singing voice was wonderful, too, doing all of June Carter’s songs without lip-syncing … just as Joaquin had.

But I do have two complaints. First, I didn’t much care for the ending. I felt it was abrupt and tried too hard to tie everything up into a nice “family package” in just a few minutes. Second (although not really a complaint but more of a comparison) is that there’ve been some really great character films done in the past few years, and although Walk The Line ranks right up there with the best of them, I felt that Jamie Foxx did a bit better job in Ray (but I think overall Walk The Line was better as entertainment).

Still, this is a great movie with excellent filming and information about an American icon of the music industry. I’m sure my dad loved it, too.

Click here for the Walk The Line movie trailer!

Golden Globe Award Winner: Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Oscar Award Winner: Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role


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