"Walk the Line" to the box office

Nov. 23, 2005, midnight | By Alex Hyder | 16 years ago

Cash biography sure to thrill music fans, critics alike

Yes, that is Joaquin Phoenix, the guy from "Gladiator." And yes, he is singing "Folsom Prison Blues" perfectly, hitting the low notes and conveying the persona of an outlaw in the way a nation of fans thought only the Man in Black — country legend Johhny Cash — could. Perhaps that's because before his recent demise, Cash himself hand-picked Phoenix to portray him in "Walk The Line," an enveloping biography of the man who grew to become one of country music's most colorful characters — in spite of his monochromatic wardrobe.

As sure as night is dark and day is light, "Walk the Line" will thrill any fan of Cash's work, whether they've done time at Folsom Prison, or even if their only experience with his music involved the CD samplers at Borders. The film, packed with toe-tapping music, a gripping story and a talented cast, is bound for success, in the model of last year's hit, "Ray."

As the film jaunts into Cash's whirlwind days as a touring musician, audiences will find themselves tapping their toes, bobbing their heads, and trying their best not to sing along to the actors' covers of hits from Cash, Carter, and their contemporaries: Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, and even (gasp) Elvis. Oldies buffs will marvel at how closely the producers manage to match the original sounds, while younger moviegoers will marvel at the music itself.

Cash may not have lived to see the release of "Walk the Line," but his influence in its production is apparent in the casting. Waylon Jennings, Cash's friend both in the film and in life, is played by his son, Shooter Jennings. His godson, Waylon Payne, applies his own talent in filing the role of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Phoenix, of course, shines in his starring role. Music historians agree that Cash had an appearance, a demeanor and a sound all his own, one that even his talented contemporaries could not imitate, try as they might.. That notwithstanding, Phoenix proves them wrong, and puts on Cash like Cash put on a black shirt—he just fits. Phoenix's dedication as an actor is apparent in the film; he taught himself guitar to keep the performance authentic, and he manages to match Cash's voice word-for-word, sound-for sound in every scene.

Never one to be outdone, Reese Witherspoon rises to the occasion of playing Cash's longtime lover and second wife, June Carter, who reportedly picked her for the role before her own death. Putting on a convincing Appalachian accent and a fetching brunette look, Witherspoon covers Carter's songs in a piercing alto, and wears the role of Cash's wife and stage partner like a glove.

In the interest of brevity, the film's producers skip some parts of Cash's career — the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, to be exact — and give some of his other accomplishments, like his early promotion of Bob Dylan or his struggle with religion, only a passing mention. But for what it is, a chronicle of his formative years, the years in which he revolutionized the sounds of both country and rock and roll music, "Walk the Line" does a job worthy of the Man in Black.

Alex Hyder. Hyder, as he is affectionately (or, as is often the case, not-so affectionately) known, is thoroughly enthused about his position on SCO. A junior in Blair's Magnet Program, he is too lazy to write a more extensive bio but nonetheless finds the energy to write … More »

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