Walk The Line (2005)
Cert: 12 / 130 mins / Dir. James Mangold / Trailer
I'm not really a fan of Johnny Cash as such*1, not really a fan of old-Country, and not really a fan of music biopics if I'm being honest. With that in mind, I didn't think that 2005's Walk The Line would really be for me. And, as Obi-Wan Kenobi once said, my insight served me well. It's not that I wasn't open to being swayed by James Mangold's portrayal of the man-in-black, but more that it just didn't convince me anyway.
The film starts slightly awkwardly, if traditionally for a biopic, but gains its footing as it goes, covering Cash's early life from his childhood on an Arkansas cotton-farm, through his military service and into the music industry. The problem I had is that the storytelling is probably too traditional for its own good, and the further it goes the more pleased with itself it becomes, and more mawkish as a result.
Walk The Line may be a two and a half hour journey, but it spans 24 years, resulting in The Exposition Express stopping only at the major stations along the way for some explanatory dialogue, red-letter events and origin-stories of The Hits. One of the pitfalls of this sort of thing, of course, is ensuring that your recurring characters age appropriately over the course of the film (cf Jersey Boys), and it was so challenging in this particular film that 20th Century Fox decided best not to bother, leaving Mummy (Shelby Lynne) and Daddy (Robert Patrick) Cash in perpetual middle-age, with only Lynne's hairstyles illustrating the passage of time.
It also probably didn't help matters that I'm only casually familiar with Cash's back-catalogue, so the heavily-telegraphed moments which feature the genesis of those songs didn't cause the tingle that James Mangold intended. In fact, he may as well have been standing in the background with a placard reading 'this is that song you know'. In many cases they're interesting, but they take the place of actually hearing the song being performed in their familiar way.
Walk The Line is a whistle-stop biography that does little to win new fans for the man in black. Despite the scattergun chronology, there are some damned fine performances in there. They're just damned fine performances of characters the film had already convinced me not to like.
And when a biography of a singer makes the viewer like him less than when they'd started watching..?
Nope, really not.
Not particularly, if I'm being honest (although you may have already gathered that).
I'd recommend it to people who enjoy watching afternoon true story tv-movies about unlikeable protagonists.
Joaquin Phoenix lent his voice to the 2003 Disney animated film, Brother Bear, as did Mr Greg Proops, who voiced Podrace commentator Fode in The Phantom Menace as well as Death Watch sympathiser Tal Merrick in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
*1 And yeah, the obvious retort is 'well if you're not a fan, what were you expecting to get out of the film?'. While it's true that I'm not a fan, I'm not not a fan, either. Walk The Line is the equivalent of introducing someone to your friend for the first time, then telling them stories of the times your friend was an aimless, substance-abusing (but highly successful) egotist. There's humanity in Phoenix's performance, but very little warmth.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.