Thursday, September 15, 2005

Walk the Line (James Mangold)

Walk the Line (James Mangold) 54 – I’ll start with the inevitable comparisons to Ray (which is inferior, despite it’s slightly higher rating) and keep this one nice and simple:

- Mangold is a much subtler director than Hackford, and even if both movies are pop crowd-pleasers, I’d have to give Walk the Line the edge. It’s first two and last two minutes are especially good.

- Ray was certainly a solidly acted movie, but Phoenix is easily more impressive as Johnny Cash than Foxx was as Charles. The lack of lip-syncing certainly makes a difference here, and the fact that Phoenix doesn’t have to fake blindness makes his performance feel like less of a stunt. By the time he was cutting his first record, I believed Phoenix completely in the role.

- Witherspoon is better still as June Carter Cash. Using every bit of her spunkiness, she gives an exceptionally good performance, given the script that she has to work with. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that more of her screen time is spent singing than not (she and Phoenix share at least a half-dozen duets throughout the course of the story), and her voice is distinctly hers but completely believable as a country star’s.

- When Phoenix and Witherspoon get together, sparks fly. Oscar nominations for both are inevitable and probably deserved. The duo has what will likely be the best movie star chemistry of the year, and they create it despite playing characters that feel like normal folks first and celebrities second.

- That’s one of Walk the Line’s biggest problems. Perhaps trying too hard to make its stars feel like common people, it ends up relegating both the singers’ creative process and the factors that made Cash so musically significant to the sidelines

- Worse still are the biopic clichés that define Cash’s tendencies in pop psychology terms. His dead brother and bitter father are shortcuts to proper characterization no matter how based in fact they might be. When the third act crisis of Cash’s dug addiction takes center stage, and his inevitable recovery looms, there’s next to no dramatic tension because we’ve been there so many times before.

- Every single one of the musical sequences is a highlight. On this front, the movie is stellar.

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