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PCR # 295  (Vol. 6, No. 46)  This edition is for the week of November 14--20, 2005.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Walk The Line"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Three and a half stars

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20th Century Fox     
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin and Robert Patrick
Directed by: James Mangold
Rated: PG 13
Running Time: 2 hours 16 mins

I have a confession. When I was 9 years old I convinced the kids at school that Johnny Cash was my uncle. I don't know how the story got started or why, but when asked I simply smiled and nodded my head. That was more then 35 years ago. Today, a year after his death, Cash is as big now as he was then. "Walk the Line" examines the early part of Cash's life, before he became known as "The Man In Black."

The film begins with Cash as a boy, tagging after his older brother, Jack. It's clear that Jack is his father's favorite, working hard in the fields and studying the Scriptures while little John just wants to fish and listen to the radio. One day, instead of helping Jack cut wood, John goes fishing. Left alone, Jack is killed in an accident and John is left to bear the guilt of his father's wrath. Fast forward to 1950. Now a man, Cash (Phoenix) joins the Air Force and is sent to Germany. While there he buys a guitar. One night at the base movie theatre he sees a movie called, "Inside the Walls of Folsum Prison." That evening, he sits down with his guitar and works on a song. After his discharge he moves to Memphis and begins a family with Vivian (Goodwin). Though he longs to be a singer, Cash toils each day as a door-to-door salesman. His route takes him to Union Avenue, where he comes across Sun Records and its owner, Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts). Securing an audition, Cash performs a few gospel numbers with his newly-formed group, the Tennessee Two. But Phillips is tired of gospel. He wants something new and if Cash can't provide it, he's wasting both of their times. Cash haltingly plays that song he wrote about prison and a star is born!

"Walk the Line" is so good on so many levels that it's hard to know where to start. Director Mangold, who did the very underrated "Copland," has constructed a film that is a musical, a biography and, most importantly, a love story. Though married, Cash is clearly thunderstruck when he meets young June Carter (Witherspoon). Married herself, Carter finds herself drawn to the quite man from Arkansas and soon they are a popular act on the touring circuit. Following Carter's divorce, Cash offers her a job with his band, assuring her that it's strictly business. Recognizing that he is still married, June does her best to keep the act professional. When Cash begins using drugs to get him through the day, his attitudes change. "Where's John?" Carter asks. "I don't like this guy Cash." Eventually, the two begin an affair, one so turbulent that June pens a song about it - "Ring of Fire." But that relationship, "bound by one's desire," is the centerpiece of the film.

The performances are perfect. Phoenix, who was hand picked by Cash, captures the man in every way, down to the way he cradles his guitar when playing. Witherspoon is equally good, giving depth to what could have been a very one-dimensional role. Both actors also do their own singing and perform admirably. Another fine performance is delivered by "Terminator 2" star Robert Patrick, virtually unrecognizable as Cash's father, Ray. Still bitter over his older boy's death and always very critical of his remaining son, all Ray can say when shown his son's new home is "Jack Benny's is bigger." Mangold fills the film with great looks at music history, including the other members of Sam Phillips' famed "million dollar quartet," Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. In an inspired bit of casting, upcoming country star Shooter Jennings appears as his father, the late Waylon Jennings.

The film is book-ended with Cash's 1968 appearance at Folsum Prison. Before going on stage Cash is told not to sing any songs that may remind the convicts they are in prison. Never one to suffer fools, Cash replies, "Do you think they forgot?" The Man in Black was born that day and "Walk the Line" is a fine introduction to how he was conceived.

On a scale of zero to four stars I give "Walk the Line"  Three and a half stars

This week's movie review of "Walk The Line" is ©2005 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2005, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.