Walk the Line

The powerful biopic of the incomparable Johnny Cash, Walk the Line sheds light on the life of the famous country singer. The film depicts his early life, his rise to fame, and ultimately his fall from grace in a whirlwind of drug addiction, alcoholism and depression. Walk the Line also delivers the story of Johnny’s relationship and love of wife June Carter Cash, and the turmoil that would be their life together leading up marriage. This epic memorial sports a momentous soundtrack featuring cast recordings of original songs by the legend himself, Johnny Cash.

The Film
The film enters with a fury of sound, the steady rhythm of a classic Cash beat, the pounding and chanting of Folsom Prison inmates, and the low rumble of excitement as we meet “The Man in Black” himself, portrayed by Joaquin Pheonix. The setting quickly changes, and as many biopics do it begins early depicting the events of Cash’s childhood. A childhood which was laden with tragic loss of his brother Jack to a sawmill accident at a very young age. The incident sets the dramatic tone of the relationship that Cash would have with his father, the late Ray Cash. This relationship would serve as an edgy undertone for the entire film, conveying much of the motivation for Cash’s constant quest to gain his father’s approval.

The film then moves along to depict Cash’s years married to Vivian Cash, played by the genial grace of Ginnifer Goodwin. It then follows Johnny, rather abruptly through his quest to make a life of being a singer as we watch him join a tour with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, but not before a powerful scene in which record producer Sam Phillips ask Cash to sing as if he had one song left to sing to tell God how he felt. The rest, of course, is what the legend of the great Johnny Cash is made of. The film then follows Cash through his later years and his struggles with drugs and alcohol; a fact which was a great antagonist of pain and separation between Cash and his long time friend and eventual lover June Carter, played by Reese Witherspoon. And it is only after a great fall does Johnny pick up the pieces of his life, with the help of June.

The performances in the this film cannot be easily described. There may not be words that can praise them in the manner which they deserve. Joaquin Pheonix delivers an engrossing and edgy performance as the legendary Cash. He not only locks down the amazing dialect and slow mannered tone of voice that made Johnny Cash famous, he embodies the true spirit of the man in black both in demeanor and appearance. His performance, above all was startling with the precision that he gave the character. And while Pheonix’ performance was sensational and awe inspiring, the performance of Reese Witherspoon was absolutely jaw-dropping. Her sensuality and stability as the explosive but lovable June Carter. There is a specific emotion that is drawn from the audience when Witherspoon graces the screen, and that emotion is excitement. She absolutely lights up this film with her energy and purity.

In summary, if someone would have told me that they were making a story of Johnny Cash’s life, my assumptions would lead me to believe that it would be a fairly uninteresting movie. The life of Johnny Cash, in fact, was not the most exciting biopic to take on, but Director James Mangold and a fantastic cast deliver a film that moves like Cash sang, “steady like a train, sharp like a razor.”

The Extras
The Special Features in the regular edition of the DVD are nominal and almost non-existent. On the contrary is the Collector’s Edition that sold in stores for an average of about $10 more. The Collector’s Edition holds a plethura of features that include extended music sequences with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Pheonx, a feature that just proves how spectacular their performances were. There is also an abundance of interviews in the featurette entitles “Celebrating the Man in Black: The Making of Walk the Line” with Roseanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, fellow Highwaymen Kris Kristoffersson and Willie Nelson, and even the trailer trash hero himself, Kid Rock. On top of all this there are two very insightful and revealing featurettes that chronicle various bits of the real Johnny Cash, including one that goes behind his performance at Folsom Prison and one that digs even deeper into his bond with June Carter.

And all this aside, the most prevailent thing that stands out about the Collector’s Edition is the amazing artwork that encompasses the entire packaging. The cover is an artistic view of Pheonix’ Cash with his patented guitar over the should look, standing in a “ring of fire.” Inside the box unfolds to reveal excellent snapshots from the film and 5 extremely captivating collectable post cards which depict scenes from the film in black and white. If for no other reason I would highly recommend the Collector’s Edition because it is one of those DVD’s that you will want to leave sitting out just to show off the stellar cover art.

The Delivery
There are two ways that the transfer to DVD could have effected a film of this calibur. Either it would have enhanced it greatly, shooting this DVD to the top of almost everyone’s “Must Have” list, or it could have made watching the film again like viewing it through the window of someone’s living room. Whereas you are seeing the same film but it does not carry the same emotional weight. Fortunately for movie lovers and collectors alike, the former is true for Walk the Line. The movie is just as stunning visually as it was in theaters with the constant rhythm and quick cuts that would parallel the life and demeanor of the main character. It is set in anamorphic widescreen and is amazingly accurate to its theatrical counterpart. And lest we forget the sound transfer: so many films in the past whose soundtracks were unbelievable have really flopped when moved to DVD (Chicago comes to mind.) Few films will ever achieve in a DTS mix for the DVD format what this film has: a powerful, natural, and unbridled soundtrack that moves you in the same manner as it did in the theater the first time you held witness. Combined with the right A/V setup this DVD will make you forget that you are at home, until your dog jumps up on the couch with you of course.

The Final Cut

To say that this movie is anything short of a spectacular emotionally moving opus to one of Country music’s greatest legends would be an abomination. From a story telling standpoint, James Mangold and a exquisite cast deliver the otherwise commonly told “rise and fall” story of Johnny Cash’s life with a new sense of intrigue and emotional attachment for viewers and fans everywhere. The look of the film is first-rate; the acting is unrivaled; and the music is absolutely addictive. If nothing else, this film is proof that not only can a man like James Mangold get actors to sing like legends, but he can make a film dance in a legendary fashion as well.

The Upside:
Superlative performances and alluring on-screen chemistry between Joaquin Pheonix and Reese Witherspoon.
The Downside:
The regular edition of the DVD is devoid of special features [Hint: Buy the Collector’s Edition]
On the Side:
Johnny Cash chose Joaquin Phoenix to play him in the film. June Carter Cash reportedly chose Reese Witherspoon for her role in the film also.

Making the Grade:
The Film: A+
The Extras: B (Dragged down by the standard edition’s lack of.)
The Delivery: A+
Overall: A+

Click here to buy the Collector’s Edition DVD from Amazon.

Tags: Entertainment, DVD, Music, Johnny Cash, Man in Black, Movies