Walk The Line (2005)

(In theaters, February 2006) Oh yawn, you may say at first glance: Another musical biography in which the hero abuses substances and sleeps with too many women. Cue the childhood flashbacks, the musical number, the early touring recreation, the celebrity cameos, the rise to glory, the detox. What usually gets left by the wayside is the whole musician angle: why do these people choose to be musicians? What makes them tick? In the case of Johnny Cash, the question is more than academic, given how he portrayed himself as an outlaw despite a tepid personal background. This aspect of the man, unfortunately, takes a back seat to the drugs and adultery. But the usual caveats aside, when Walk The Line clicks, it does so enjoyably: The musical numbers are fit to leave you humming Cash tunes for a few days (with a particular nod toward “Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire”), and there’s a fabulous fifteen minutes sequence in which Cash shares a tour with other budding superstars such as Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and (if I caught that moment correctly), Elvis Presley. (Can you imagine seeing such a show?) The early rockabilly stuff is pure toe-tapping enjoyment, and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is fabulous. Then the film slides into a more conventional self-destructive spiral interrupted in time for a graceful climactic salvation. Eh; I’d rather learn more about Johnny Cash than just the usual dramatic arc.

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