Well another biopic is upon us. Last year we had Ray Charles and Jamie Foxx, this year it's Johnny Cash and Joaquin Phoenix. Both are well known musical legends, both started around the same time, both had problems with drugs, both eventually recorded country music, and both eventually cleaned themselves up. Walk the Line is Cash's life from the death of his older brother to his 1968 proposal to June Carter, the love of his life, played here by Reese Witherspoon.
Well until Capote I never really realized that a biopic is a genre. Much like musicals or westerns would have dominated previous years, lately it seems like no Oscar season is complete without a few of these films up for contention. Joaquin is certainly going to be a contender for best actor, people love an actor who can play a singer and do his own singing, although who can't sing like Johnny Cash? The real shining star of the film though is Witherspoon, who has arguably never been better, although Election is a possible exception, despite being very far from it. She too does her own singing, and June Carter had a slightly better voice than Cash. You also have to look at the fact that Joaquin is a farely well respected actor. He has proven himself very capable, and even received an Oscar nomination before (supporting for Gladiator). Witherspoon on the other hand has not had a very easy time gaining the type of recognition as an actress, somehow two Legally Blonde movies seem to put off a lot of Academy voters.
Here though she has arguably never been more beautiful (sporting a brunette mop), and certainly has never been so convincingly dramatic. Despite June Carter's reputation as a funny singer, Witherspoon doesn't play her as a comic, which could be easy because Witherspoon has certainly been funny before. She doesn't just play the supporting woman for the big man either. Her role is powerful, and since it was based off of Cash's own autobiographies, you can tell whatever he wrote about June was filled with pure love.
The dialogue in the film works wonderfully, especially between those two. Johnny doesn't always have the right things to say, and Witherspoon's dialogue isn't just believable, it is full of phrases and answers that I've heard myself. That right there are the films two strongest points. Great dialogue, and great acting.
What makes the film fall a notch is it's predictability. Capote steered clear of many biopic cliches and in the process succeeded in ways that Walk the Line doesn't. The disapproving father (Robert Patrick), the success montage, the drug addiction, the hard life on the road, it's all formulaic. It's as if someone was saying "A movie about Johnny Cash would be perfect", just like any movie about any early rock and roll legend would be. Substitute Cash for Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, or Roy Orbisson and you'd have virtually the same movie. There are big chunks of Cash's life left out, but well the movie is certainly long enough as is. The pacing is off. This is a 140 minute movie that feels like it's three hours, it drags. The best of these films should fly by, but I never get a feeling like I'm finding anything new here, either about Cash, who's life was a cliche, or about the genre.
Just to be on the up and up, it would be advisable to see the film. Lots of people were in attendance, even though Harry Potter was playing in the next theater, and lots of people are going to be talking about it. I hope that the most attention goes to Reese Witherspoon, who is deserving of some damn recognition here, but most likely we'll here about the work of Phoenix here.
Grade B -