Lowdown: The treacherous life of Johnny Cash.
One of my more memorable teenage memories is going to watch Top Gun at the cinemas with my friend Uri. Top Gun is a really bad film, so bad it’s funny, but at the time it was made even funnier by us reading Mad Magazine’s take on the film before we actually saw it. Thus when we sat at the cinema we couldn’t contain ourselves laughing at all those movie moments that made us recall the Mad version. It was weird: Mad’s version was better than the real thing.
Exactly the same thing happened to me as I sat and watched Walk the Line. Having recently watched Walk Hard, an excellent comedy by its own rights and very obviously taking a direct piss Walk the Line, I couldn’t help comparing the two. And just as the unlikely Mad Top Gun version was better than Top Gun, it turned out Walk Hard tramples Walk the Line.
Walk the Line tells the story of singer Johnny Cash, and according to the film’s opening credits it is indeed based on Cash’s autobiography. We start of with a kid Cash growing up in a country bumpkin family whose living is quite tough and whose favorite son dies in an accident. Johnny, who is not the favorite, is sort of being blamed by the old style father (Robert Patrick, who seem to have found himself a niche as the brute and thick father now that his terminator days are over).
An older Cash (now portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix) leaves his family behind and goes for an army stint in Germany while his country wages war in Korea. He finds solitary comfort in his music and his love for a girl he met briefly before going away. Upon Cash’s return they get married and breed some kids. Cash finds cash rather hard to acquire: he’s no good in his door to door salesperson job; he craves the music. Eventually, he manages to get a record of his done, and with the success of this record he goes on tour, which brings forth Walk the Line’s core plot.
The touring Cash is exposed to alcohol and drugs. Cash, physically removed from his family, begins a tour of torment with himself; his only salvation, at least according to him, is his new love subject – fellow touring singer June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). And thus we are condemned to two and a half hours of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll with Cash and his battle to come to terms with life as we know it.
Condemned, because the film is way too long for what it has to say and the amount of events it deals with. Tormented, because with all due respect I didn’t think too highly of Joaquin Phoenix’ portrayal of Cash, especially not him performing all of Cash’s songs. Not even a DTS soundtrack gives Phoenix the qualities that the real Cash's voice has had. Maybe it’s just me and my general indifference to Cash’s music, but for a film dealing with music at its core I was less than moved; Walk Hard’s music parody offered a soundtrack and performances that in my book were ten times better (I know I’m allowing myself to be stoned to death here by Cash’s fans, but hey, that’s my opinion).
Overall, my biggest problem with Walk the Line is that I simply but totally failed to identify with Cash’s character. Come on, who amongst us can boast to have perfect parents? Is Cash the only alcoholic / drug addict on the planet? What is the deal with all this torment and with all these struggles he supposed to be going through, struggles which I would just label as “ordinary life”?
Indeed, watching Walk the Line made me realize just how accurate the flak it had received from Walk Hard is.
Worst scene: Cash, performing live at a tough jail, glorifies the inmates and their ability to manage prison’s life. Does society really need to glorify that of all things? Are they supposed to be our heroes, according to Cash?
Overall: Walking the Line is a rather mundane affair, somewhere between 1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars.