BACK IN BLACK

I miss Johnny Cash. 

I'm sad that I didn't see him in concert, especially when he came to Sacramento with his wife and played at the Radisson hotel about 8 years ago, and can't remember what I could have possibly been doing that could have been more important than seeing the man grace the world with his presence.  Johnny Cash is my favorite rock star.  His incredible voice could make a good song magnificent.  More so than Elvis, The Beatles, Stones, or Zeppelin, Cash is what Rock and Roll is all about to me.  Not wanting to follow any trends, just sing fucking good songs.  Johnny knows of the torture, pain, and love we all feel in life.  "Walk The Line" isn't as good as seeing him walk the earth again, but its a great peek into the mysterious and cool life of one of the most badass musicians to ever walk the planet.

With eerie similarities to the Ray Charles film last year, Walk the Line is a great biopic of the legend that was made with authorization from the people behind the story.   Though Johnny Cash and his wife June died 2 years ago, this film was a long enough in the making that they each reportedly handpicked the actors they wanted to play them.  And how the hell could Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon refuse?  Both of them have been spoon fed roles that are guaranteed to give them Oscar Nominations.  You just knew that Phoenix would nail the part from the moment it was mentioned he got it, but Reese blew me away with her portrayall as June Carter.  Forget all the silly goofy ass romantic comedies you've seen her in before.  This lady can act.  And she can sing.

When I first saw the trailer for Walk The Line, I was a bit turned off because I thought Joaquin Phoenix just got the Cash look down and was lip syncing to the original audio.  But once you learn that he both learned to play the guitar for this film, and that every bit of singing is his own, it's impressive as hell.  Even Reese does her own singing in this film.  They are by no means some clever soundalike act, but give credible and soulful interpretations of their greatest performances that don't make you doubt that you've gone back in time and are watching these two rock country gods do what they do best.

Joaquin, is of course, amazing as Johnny.  He plays the tortured man with a brilliance that rivals any acting peformance in recent memory.  When you look at his work in Gladiator, U-Turn, Signs, and Walk the Line, you can see he's clearly become one of America's greatest and most versatile actors.  He plays Cash with a burning seething quality that makes him impossible to look away from.  And when he sings, it's like he's chanelling Cash himself.

As mentioned earlier, Witherspoon is amazing as his longtime love and eventual wife, June.  She can sing and act in ways that make you think about those Legally Blonde movies ever existed.  And as a brunette, she's beyond gorgeous.  When she performs "Juke Box Blues" when you first see her, on an unreal retro all star tour with Cash, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison, you can only wonder why she doesn't sing country music for a living in real life.

So how's the movie?  I'd summarize it as an "okay" movie with phenomenal performances.  I think a better script and director may have made this an all time classic, but as it is, it's pretty much just your typical cookie cutter rock star bio-pic with some incredible music performances.  James Mangold does a competent job and keeps the film watchable and enticing, but it's missing that special something that would make it a genuine four star movie.

You certainly have to watch this movie because you love Johnny Cash.  If you only have a passing interest in the man, you might be a bit let down as the story is little more than your standard "simple man makes it big, gets hooked on drugs, has a detox scene, and then gets things straight" behind the music tale.

The movie is told almost in a classic musical style with the story progressing through Cash's musical.  I think it would actually work well as a Broadway show.  It's a treat to watch, and I found myself tapping my feet and singing along during much of the film. 

If you loved Johnny Cash and his music, you really owe it to yourself to see this film.

I can't wait for the kickass DVD they're bound to put together for this.

-Robert Berry
rberry@rerocrush.com

 


 

 

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