Saturday, November 26, 2005

Walk the Line

2005, US, directed by James Mangold

It's hardly a surprise to see this film compared to last year's Ray, what with the similarities in raw material, at least as presented onscreen: two dirt-poor southerners who have faced tragedies of one kind or another head out on their own, and break into the music business in semi-miraculous fashion. Their rise to stardom is fuelled by substance abuse and infidelity - followed by redemption and elevation to the status of national icons. That, at least, is the Hollywood version of things, although the movie format doesn't allow for much in the way of biographical nuance in two hours, even where the focus has been reduced to a fifteen-year span of Cash's life, childhood scenes apart. Given the constraints of the form, this a creditable bit of pseudo-biography, filling in the major incidents of Cash's rise to fame, especially the long flirtation, and eventual relationship, with June Carter. They first met when both were married - not something that cramped Cash's style anyway - and the film does a decent job of sketching in the emotional complexities of their relationship, without excusing them overly. In this, the film is greatly helped by its stars: Joaquin Phoenix is exceptional as Cash, inhabiting the character in convincing fashion, his face showing the wear and tear of hard living as the film progresses, while Reese Witherspoon, after years of froth, looks as though she's finally fulfilling some of the dramatic promise she showed as a teenage actress. Both actors do their own singing, imitating Cash and Carter with considerable accuracy (Jamie Foxx did a fine job of channelling Ray Charles's tics and twitches, but Phoenix and Witherspoon lend real fire to proceedings with their own energetic renditions of the greatest hits), and there's an unmistakeable chemistry between the two. It's no surprise to see Cash 'saved' from himself by the love of a good woman - Carter - but there's a twist, in that her relationship with Cash is clearly a form of redemption, too, after years of unhappiness: in many ways, this is a biopic of a couple rather than an individual, as befits the bond the two shared.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States