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Walk the Line 5 times Oscar nominated

The stories of the famous always have a special appeal, even though they are no more extraordinary than many stories of the poor and unknown. Musos, from Mozart to Johnny Cash, are an especially troublesome lot in life (but perhaps no more so than painters, writers and filmmakers), whose lives seem crammed with extreme experiences. And fame.

Having Cash's own autobiographies to work from, the filmmakers have been able to piece together a largely reliable picture of the man, even though the film covers less than 15 years of his life (not counting the opening scenes of him at 12). But I don't feel quite satisfied that this film has given us the real Johnny Cash, and perhaps the biggest reason is that to me, Joaquin Phoenix is not Johnny Cash. He is a very good actor and he does a great singing job, but he doesn't match my mental image of Cash.

There is another issue that niggles me: the episodic structure of he film looks exactly like a screenplay plucked from a book that could not be tamed. Even so, it runs over two hours. I don't expect a rich life to be condensed to two hours, but I do expect a good story. Johnny Cash is a good story, but this film doesn't really do it justice. There are some wonderful moments, sure enough; the life changing moment in the tiny, low rent Sun studio when Cash is told that the song he has presented as an audition piece is a piece of crap. In desperation, he offers something of his own - exactly what he should have done.

This is the time that other great rock stars were just emerging, wannabes like him: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and others. It's a fascinating moment in music history, and I feel cheated of it. Passing each other backstage and in dreary halls, we are teased with the musical revolution but never engaged by it.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:


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