With the inevitable comparisons to last year's Ray, James Mangold's Walk the Line sort of comes out of the gate already handicapped - at least for me. Although I enjoyed Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles - and of course loved the music - Ray was nothing much more than atypical Hollywood mediocrity at it's Oscar-grubbing sleekest. Now we get the biopic of yet another musical icon/legend - Johnny Cash. Again, the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Cash and June Carter are top notch, and again, the music is spectacular. Both Charles and Cash are two of my all-time favourites. And again, we get a (albeit slightly less) mediocre Hollywood vehicle, helmed by one of the many faceless - and soulless - hack studio directors slithering around the backlots and red carpets of southern California.
Sure, as I have said, Phoenix and Witherspoon are both on top of their respective games - and they even perform and sing all the songs in the film - but we are still left with little more than your typical biopic. Famous person has bad childhood. Famous person finds his muse. Famous person gets hooked on drugs and/or alcohol. Famous person loses the love of his life due to aforementioned drugs and/or alcohol. Aforementioned love of his life rescues famous person from drugs and/or alcohol. Famous person and love of his life live happily ever after until their inevitable deaths shortly before the making of the film. Put all this to great music and you have Walk the Line - as well as Ray and a score other lesser known films.
Although this film is slightly meatier than Ray - Charles was the greater musician, a genius even, but Cash was the greater personality, and it shows - we are still left hanging. There are inevitable Oscars in Walk the Line's future - Witherspoon is probably the current frontrunner for best actress and Phoenix is second only to the great buzz on Philip Seymour Hoffman's Truman Capote portrayal - but I am going to give the same advice I gave to those that asked me about Ray last year at this time. Buy the damned soundtrack! And for that matter, toss in a few other Johnny Cash cd's (Live from Folsom Prison is your best bet) while you are at it. But hey, who am I to tell you what to do? [11/21/05]