Walk the Line (2005) - James Mangold

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Walk the Line (2005) - James Mangold

Postby wpqx » Sun Nov 20, 2005 11:23 pm

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 -

Re: Walk the Line (2005) - James Mangold

Postby hengcs » Tue Jan 17, 2006 5:37 am

congrats on the Golden Globe win

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Re: Walk the Line (2005) - James Mangold

Postby A » Thu May 11, 2006 8:55 pm

Saw the film yesterday for the second time with some friends on a PC. The first time was with my mother in a cinema were we were the only visitors. Both times the film was dubbed in German. Now I usually never watch dubbed films if I can avoid it, so I made a big exception - twice.
What is so special about the film, to give it such attention? Not much one could say, but the film isn't so easily dismissible.
As it is based on Cash's biography, if you know the story you certainly don't have much to expect plot-wise. But if not it's as predictable or unpredictable as any other film. What was the most remarkable for me, was Joaquin Phoenix, and the way he portrayed the role. I wouldn't call it a portrayal, I wouldn't even call it acting. To me it felt much more like Phoenix emerged into the character of Cash as he imagined him fit for the film. And that is also how I watched the film. Not as a bio-pic about the real Johnny Cash, but as a fictionalisation of a story that is similar to Cash's, but that becomes something else through the sheer presence of Joaquin Phoenix. It was watching him move, watching him talk, sing and stutter that was the real deal. Anyone thinking too much about the "real" cash during the film misssed the point. It's like watching an "adaptation" of a book, and always comparing each scene with the original. That's beside the point, as a film will always be something else.
So if we leave behind the "biopic-angle" what the movie offers us, is a story of its own.
For me the film seemed about a person who is trying to fight his inner demons, who is inwardly weak and outwardly strong, but who actually has no reason to be weak, other than that this state was first inflicted upon him by others, and he keeps carrying on the burden. What redeems him in the end is not necessarily love itself, but a person where he feels safe enough to open himself up completely. The divide between how people see Phoenix and what they expect of him and how he himself feels couldn't be larger. And trying to make up for something he hasn't done, in combination with a further fractioning of the self through the public persona, is indeed a difficult task. Though the film itself only hints at most of these things, the personal obsession, and the constant fight with inner demons already reaches the viewer through Joaquin Phoenix alone. He is the message and the plot of the film, everything else (even Reese Witherspoon as his great love) pales in comparison. The actors sing themselves, and that is a good choice as it doesn't stand in the way of their performance but furthers it. They have enough musical talent to look and sound believable. Another remarkable thing about the film was the camerawork and the lighting. Keeping the whole film in the same tone, it mostly manages to express Phenix' emotions and the surrounding atmosphere he finds himself in. In the best moments, it becomes something of a mirror of Pheonix mind, as in a remarkable scene where it follows and stumbles along with him, while he tries to inflict his fury upon a solitary room and everything in it. The cell which the protagonist has built for himself is ever present. Mangold's direction is solid. He manages to fit in some social crtitique through captioring the stifling atmosphere of the times remarkably well, though he only scratches the surface. The biggest problem of the film is often just this. Although it ran 140 min, I felt it was much too short for the material it tried to fit in. Sometimes I had the feeling of a slide-show, with the script trying to squeeze in too much information and the director not taking enough time to expand it properly. All other characters besides Cash - and at times June Carter - were nowhere developed enough to feel right whenever on screen. Either Mangold should have shown them less and focused even more on Cash, or he should have expanded the role of at least half a dozen of supporting characters. As it is, they point only in a perfunctory level towards Phoenix' enclosure and alienation from his surroundings.
In the end a far above average film from hollywood that has its directors mark on it, but is clearly dominated by the main protagonist. The story is abstracted enough to resemble a universal myth that most people carry along in their subconscious and are able to relate to. Like a greek tragedy, a cathartic effect will most likely take place with most viewers who are willing enough to engage with it.

Grade: B

Re: Walk the Line (2005) - James Mangold

Postby arsaib4 » Sat May 13, 2006 2:15 am

I graded it a C+. It would've been lower if it were not for the performances of Pheonix, who usually does interesting work, and Witherspoon.

"So if we leave behind the "biopic-angle" what the movie offers us, is a story of its own. "

I'm not sure about that. With the amount of musical performances, it felt like a television special; and with the time left in-between, instead of talking heads, we are dealt the usual dramatic events.

I didn't even realize that the film was directed by Mongold, who did some good indie work early on in his career with Heavy and Copland (or even Girl, Interrupted). His previous two features before Walk were Identity and Kate and Leopold. Not very encouraging.

Re: Walk the Line (2005) - James Mangold

Postby A » Sat May 13, 2006 6:05 pm

I've only seen Heavy and Copland by Mangold. Liked both, and would rate all three on the same level. Haven't seen the other two. Yes, they had a big amount of musical numbers, but for me that is a plus. Music is clearly a very important part of their lives, so depicting them a lot on and off stage making music is essential. And the musical numbers always reflected or enhanced what was going on between them. Also I found it very interesting how they performed in the different situations, and the different qualities of the performances. I fyou saw them as "just" some musical numbers, you missed the point. The dramatic events are usual, but for me that doesn't make them bad - just usual. I don't know, i just had the feeling the film was honest with me. Probably because of Pheonix. I didn't care much about Witherspoon really, found his wife actually more interesting (the character AND the performance).

Re: Walk the Line (2005) - James Mangold

Postby arsaib4 » Sat May 13, 2006 6:47 pm

Yes, of course, music was an important aspect (after all, the film is about a musician, a great one at that), and it affected the lives of the participants . But I needed a little more reflection than what the film offered through the dramatic montages and pre-performance banter. Though it's hard to argue if you felt that the film projected their lives in an honest manner. I thought it was a by-the-numbers biopic whose title and subject could easily be substituted without much of a problem.

Re: Walk the Line (2005) - James Mangold

Postby wpqx » Mon May 15, 2006 2:01 pm

It was made commercially, which may be a problem with it, Ray was at least a little more adventerous. I just felt the film dragged and was far too long. As for Mangold, I loved Girl, Interrupted even if that too was predictable and by the numbers.

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