I actually hate country music as a general principle. So I was never too interested in Walk the Line until fairly recently. I came at it from two directions: seeing Phoenix in The Master and being really impressed, and also having Johnny Cash come up on my Pandora station more and more so finally I basically had so excuse not to see this movie. The story here is kind of meh, but the acting and the music is really good.
So young JR Cash has a pretty rough childhood, growing up with an abusive father and his older brother Jack dying. The film also shows his mother singing quite frequently, presumably where he got his taste for music from. Then the film goes forward in time to John (now played by Joaquin Phoenix) leaving home to join the air force. While he is stationed in Germany, he writes the soon to be famous “Folsom Prison Blues” and proposes to his first wife, Vivian (Gennifer Goodwin). It seems that her father doesn’t really like John, but they get married later anyway, something that both of them will eventually regret. They settle in Nashville and John takes a job as a salesman but that doesn’t work out too well.
Eventually he is able to start a band with a couple of guys he knows and goes into town to cut a record. This is a pretty great scene. They start singing some lame song that’s always on the radio and they are just really boring. The guy that owns the record studio gives them an inspirational speech and John leads them all in “Folsom” which none of the rest of them have ever played before. They get their record deal and go on tour and become famous and all the rest.
Around this time, he meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). He listened to her sing as a child and has always admired her. They seem to get on pretty well when they meet, but of course John is still married and June has just gotten a divorce. This is the fifties, and people are judging her pretty hard. They end up going on tour together, and their relationship becomes rather one-sided. They become good friends, but John wants more and June just seems annoyed about it most of the time. This doesn’t help as more and more June seems to just serve in the function of helping John out when he’s stoned out of his mind. That gets old pretty darn quick, and eventually John can’t function well enough to continue the tour. He continues down that dark path until he gets sent to jail, then gets out again, and finally gets clean. Yay!
Though undoubtedly inspiring, I feel like I’ve heard this story about a bazillion times before. Famous person grows up in obscurity, gets famous, does drugs and gets in a really bad place, and eventually works his/her way out of it to become famous once again. That’s exactly what happens here, just throw the love story in and you’ve got it. Though I will say that the plot is nothing special, it’s supposed to be based on Johnny Cash’s actual life and though I assume they took liberties, there’s only so much they could do without people getting upset. It is what it is. That’s what I expected going in and that’s what I got. I don’t think this really holds the movie back as much as it would if this was just a story about a fictional character. Because it’s Johnny Cash (and really this applies to whatever famous person a given film is about) you’re going to get a lot of good music, and let’s face it, that’s probably why most people saw the movie in the first place. You see it because it’s about Johnny Cash.
The coolest thing about this movie is that Phoenix and Witherspoon did their own singing. That is really freakin’ amazing and they did a great job with it. I haven’t been listening to Johnny Cash that long, but if I wasn’t concentrating on it, I wouldn’t have noticed that it wasn’t him singing (and perhaps if I hadn’t already known that it wasn’t him I wouldn’t have noticed at all). I’m even less familiar with June, but I feel that Witherspoon got her style down really well, even if her voice wasn’t exactly the same. It’s really amazing. Once he actually makes it big and does shows, it’s great because the a lot of the film is singing. So I was just singing along for a lot of it and it was really fun.
Even though I said the story was nothing special, there still is a story so it’s not like this was just a concert film or anything. There are opportunities for the cast to act and everything, and they do a really great job. I have no idea what these people were actually like, outside the music, so I can’t really say they were just like the real people, but this is one of those weird times when I want to say it anyway. I only really have a couple of complaints really. It’s just that I was never really worried about John; despite the obvious plot I always felt that he wasn’t in that much trouble. I think I should have been more worried about him, at some point I should have been like “is there any way he can possibly come out of this? oh the humanity!” Well, less cheesy than that would have been nice, but you get the idea. Another is that I just didn’t have a good sense of the amount of time passing in the film. I know they put up titles that said the years, but besides that nothing seemed to change except June’s hairstyle which didn’t really help me that much. It seems like a minor thing, but I don’t know it just really bothered me. Are they supernatural beings or something? because they don’t age. I know aging makeup can backfire sometimes but I think some would have helped here.
So all in all, I bascially watched this for the music and it delivered on that big time. That’s basically what I had figured was going to happen going into it, so I was only a little disappointed. The film falls short on some counts; it could have went a bit further with the darker side of fame thing but whatever, we’re not losing too much by leaving it out. The main thing is the music, and it’s really, really good.
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars