Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Walk the Line

Review for Film Ireland - original post - Friday, April 07, 2006

Walk the Line
DIR: James Mangold • WRI: Gill Dennis, James Mangold • PROD: James Keach, Cathy Konrad • DOP: Phedon Papmichael • ED: Michael McCusker • DES: David J. Bomba • CAST: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick

Cotton pickin' Johnny listens to June on the old radio at the end of a long day while Daddy roars Turn it off. Johnny watches his brother cut wood on a desk saw but all he wants to do is go fishing. When he leaves to go fish we know it will end in tragedy. Soldier Johnny in an airbase in Germany, Salesman Johnny with a suitcase in Memphis, Gospel Johnny draws a blank at his one chance audition so rebel Johnny appears and within months is moving up the charts and criss-crossing Tenessee with Elvis, Jerry Lee, Roy and June.

Johnny and June swap baby tales and you know what will eventually happen. Marriages end and new ones appear, drink is drunk and pills are popped and Salesman Johnny lets the music suits know that his old thing is his new thing, playing in prison. His Daddy reacts to a drug bust by lettin' us know 'Now he won't have to try so hard to get people to believe he was in prison'(or some such words).

If Johnny had sang like Joaquin Pheonix we wouldn't be watching this – he'd mean nothing. If June had sang like Reese, ditto. When reality is so fabulous (as in Fable-like) why make up fabuluity that is so unrealistic?

Where is Johnny's exploration of Native American culture on Bitter Tears, which saw him excoriated by many in the country hierarchy, as did his friendship with and defence of Bob Dylan? Where is his moment of revelation in the desert when he sees God in visions? Where is JOHNNY CASH in this movie? Nowhere!

Call him drunken Johnny Cash, he can't hear you anymore.

Surely the release of the (rather brilliant) Carrying On with Johnny Cash and June Carter would have better explained his first wife's jealousy rather than the rather painful scene of him hanging various pix of June in his home. Do actors playing famous people always look so smug?

Anyway, the basic story is that when Johnny pulls he pulls with a tractor and neither time nor tide will stop him. But we knew that. They shot a film just to watch it die. Why didn't they put the money into a documentary. It'd be great: 'All Directions Home'.

This is a TV movie with a budget but no new ideas. If these characters were totally fictional we would have no reason to care for them. There is an almost random nature to the episodes without even the interest of the truly random. They are not just random, but random clichés.

The video for Hurt [directed by Mark Romanek] knocks this whole film into a cocked country hat.

Save the price of a ticket and wait to see it on TV. Buy Carrying On… instead: Johnny's voice was like the roots of an old oak tree pushing deep into the soil of rural America, and one of the few people with deeper roots was June Carter. Their chemistry jumps from the grooves. Their work is a much better memorial than this flaccid biopic by numbers.

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