Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Walk The Line

I don't know much about Johnny Cash.

I realize he's a musical legend and all, but for some reason I never became a fan. To be honest, I was never really exposed to any of his music. I remember he did a duet with U2 that I thought was pretty cool. But that's about it, as far as my exposure to his music.

So I went into this movie with a pretty open mind, and no real frame of reference.

What I found was a fun, entertaining movie.

It's a little surprising to me because I found the structure of this movie to be very similar to last year's award winning movie Ray......which I didn't all.

It's strange cause I was more familiar with Ray Charles music, one would think that I would enjoy THAT movie more. I spent some time after the film trying to comprehend why Walk the Line worked for me. It was only after sleeping on it, and having the movie play in the background at work that I realized why I enjoyed this film more.

For one thing, the movie Walk the Line focuses on a smaller portion of the musician's life. Walk the Line chooses to mostly focus on Johnny Cash's rise to fame, and his relationship with June Carter, where as Ray tried to cram his whole life into one film. I also felt that this movie in terms of structure benefits from having one clear love interest in the protagonist life. This movie also seemed to have a better sense of fun and entertainment. While I found the movie Ray at times to be pretentious and bloated. Remember the scene where he learns to deal with his blindness? Suddenly it turned into an episode of the television show Kung Fu.

But the most important element to the film, that I thought elevated it above a movie like Ray was the dramatic use of the musical numbers. Every song in the film has a dramatic purpose in the movie. It's not just a song for the audience to enjoy. For instance, when he auditions for a record contract, it's not just him singing, with every verse we see the character fighting for his life, trying to prove his worth. When he first sings a duet with June Carter there is sexual and relationship tensions going on. Another time he sings a song high on speed, and during the course of the number he collapses from an overdose. The fact is one could go through every musical number in the entire film and find a dramatic purpose to each of the songs. I don't think one song in the film is done just for the sake of a musical number.

Credit has to go to the James Mangold's fine direction and Gil Dennis screenplay. It sounds like such a simple idea, having drama in each musical number, but it makes a huge difference to a film and I'm sure it's more difficult then it appears. To be honest I didn't even notice it until listening to the film on my second viewing.

Not that the performances are all that bad either. I think both the lead performers do a solid job. But the fact is I'm not a big fan of bio-pic performances.

No matter how good they are.

For some reason I feel the actor is just doing an impersonation. Impersonations like comedian Rich Little does for a living. Especially when they are world famous entertainers. I'll be watching the movie, and then they'll do something that reminds me of the performer they are playing, and I'll pull out of the film and think "Wow, for that one second he sounded just like him. That's kind of eerie." Then I'll keep watching and the whole time I'll be thinking what else is he going to do that'll impress me. I'll start thinking about the real performer, and I'll wonder how he'd feel watching someone imitate him so well. Which leads to a hundred other thoughts and so on. Which means I'm not concentrating on the story or the film...but on the impersonation.

For me when I'm interested in watching a movie about someone's life it's just easier viewing a documentary.

Straight from the person's mouth.

But that's just my own weird quirky little deal. I'm strange. I admit that. I'm sure a lot of people don't share that same odd view, and they'll be caught up in the story and these performances.

But I'm just a grouch. Like I said earlier, I did enjoy watching the film. This movie also has a lot of fun moments. Like when Johnny Cash is touring with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, the romance betweeen Cash and June Carter is sweet and touching, seeing a re-enacting of his concert in Folsom was cool. Makes me want to check out the real thing. Not to mention great music. As I said earlier I'm not a Johnny Cash fan, but I admit I'm thinking of heading over to Napster, and buying some of his music. I'm sure fans who are more familiar with his music will enjoy these moments even more than a novice like me.

Overall I think the film was written, directed and performed really well. Although I wouldn't put it on my personal best films of the year list, it's definitely a film that stands out from last year.

It's available on DVD now. I'm sure it's going to be a tough rental with the Academy Awards around the corner. So show up to the stores early.

1 comment:

Lons said...

Interesting review. I have to say, the thing I liked BEST about the movie was the Phoenix performance. He's not really doing a Johnny Cash impression - he's just playing a character based on the real guy. He speaks, looks and sings differently, though (as does Reese Witherspoon from June Carter, by the way). It works much better this way...We still GET that the story is based on the real Johnny Cash, but we can put that aside and just enjoy it as a sweet romance about this musical couple.