I must confess I am not a fan of country/western music. But I am interested in the history of American music, and because Johnny Cash is a musical legend, I went to see Walk the Line. I was entertained and very impressed.
It is no wonder Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for an Academy Award this year, as was his costar Reese Witherspoon. Both actors give extraordinary performances; Joaquin sang and played the guitar as Johnny, and Reese as June Carter Cash also sang and played the autoharp.
I had forgotten or not realized that Johnny Cash came along in the same era as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison. Walk the Line is thus a trip to the roots of a new time for American music in the 50’s and 60’s, and I enjoyed the film from beginning to end.
Like Ray, Johnny’s early life had a tragedy that continues to haunt him. Johnny’s life was also complicated by a troubled relationship with his difficult father, an addiction to prescription drugs, and the stress on his marriage to first wife Vivian because of his long absences while on the road.
June Carter deals with her own trials, including ostracism from her religiously fanatical fans that condemn her for getting a divorce. The film is also very much about the romance between Johnny and June, a love story that takes over a decade to resolve, and that never follows a straight line.
I liked seeing how Johnny created his music, and my feet were tapping as the songs I realized I really did know rolled off Joaquin’s lips. He does such an incredible job playing Johnny. His voice is so like the legend. It gave me chills watching him sing Folsom Prison Blues for the very first time in the recording studio. Clearly, Johnny Cash had things he needed to express through his music, and fortunately for us, he did.
The film is rated PG-13 for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency. It really should have received a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year. It’s a beautiful romance about soul mates Johnny and June finding a way to be together, and about what Johnny overcame to be the musical legend he remains today.