Thursday, November 24, 2005
Johnny Cash circumvented the rowdy mantrap of diminishing
rock ‘n’ roll returns (which muffled virtually all of Sam
Phillips’ six-string cocksmen in the end) by giving up his one
true love—little white speed pills—for his other one true
love—young Memphis country and gospel sasspot June Carter
(Reese Witherspoon), a powder keg of padlocked passions whose
sparks ignited for her music, friends, family, and also, to
her dismay, this black-clad baritone with the quiver in his
voice and the arrow in his heart.
WALK THE LINE ( * * * ½)Directed by James Mangold.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Patrick, Shelby Lynne and Ginnifer Goodwin. (PG-13, 136 min.)
At the Century Cinemas Del Monte Center, Northridge Cinemas and Maya Cinemas.
Joaquin Phoenix as Cash in Walk the Line is the next best thing to having been there, I suppose, and although the sinner man’s early successes and echoing woes look chaotically entertaining indeed in that hellishly dashing sort of way young doomsters can exude, the wreckage he leaves in his wake is quick and obvious and banal. Only the steady output of his lonely locomotive guitar and plaintive, almost homely, voice made this bad Cash worth anybody’s jukebox dime.
As the son of an Arkansas sharecropper (Robert Patrick), who blames young J.R. for the horrific accidental death by bandsaw of his beloved older brother (and preacher-to-be), Cash’s only friends were the radio, gospel music, and his mother (singer Shelby Lynne). At 18 he saw his chance and left behind the cotton flatlands for a stint in the Air Force before returning to marry first wife Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), sire three daughters, and, by the skin of his teeth and the grace of Sun Records, cut a record and get it on the radio.
It’s here, especially, that Phoenix becomes the tour-ravaged, fan-struck road rat, who only comes into his own after damning his own familial good fortune by tumbling for the ever-hesitant June like a pair of the most loaded dice in the devil’s pocket. And that’s it, really: Cash, Carter, and the Benzedrine and Dexedrine 12-step.
James Mangold, working from a fine, tightly wound script by himself and Gill Dennis, begins and ends things at Folsom Prison, immersed in the roar and the stink of caged men unchained by Cash’s genuine rebel yell (or drawl). Mangold, Phoenix, and Witherspoon, all excellent in their roles, are in on the secret: Folsom Prison was as likely as sky to be Johnny Cash’s real, final homestead. Things just got a little mixed up on the way to hell. And thank God for that.