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Walk the Line

A Biopic Geared Towards Fans

It seems like every year, right around the holidays, another biopic about a musician is released. I can imagine watching Madonna's life story unfold in 2030 or perhaps that of Prince's. This year we have Mr. Cash. While "the man is black" may not have been as popular or as well known as "the king" with whom his used to tour, Johnny Cash holds his own.

I find the Hollywoodization of a life fascinating. The biography always gets more glamorous and the person in question invariably becomes better looking; so one becomes cooler and more beautiful, wouldn't it be great if everyone's life could go through the same process? In Walk the Line, Cash's lumbering, intimidating frame gets turned into that of dark and sulking Joaquin Phoenix.

Walk the Line tells the story from only a part of Cash's long life (he died in 2003) -- that of his rise to fame, his drug addiction and his dogged pursuit of his future June Carter -- rather than look at his life as a whole. His life follows the same path of many music stars: he grew up poor on a farm (in Arkansas), his father was an alcoholic and his mother doted on him, he joined the army, got married, started playing music, had some kids, formed a band, recorded an album, went on tour, started sleeping around, drinking and doing drugs, had some more kids, bought a nice house, started fighting with his wife, went back on tour, slept with some more groupies and did more drugs, etc. etc. etc.

The movie has the typical rhythm of all biopics; you have all the highs and the lows of a "Behind the Music" episode. However, the difference here is Cash's relationship with gospel and country singer June Carter, with whom he has a tumultuous decade long friendship (he loves her but he's married and she has her own set of baggage) followed by almost 35 years of marriage (she died four months prior to him). The bright and effervescent Carter -- everything Cash is not -- is played superbly by a sparkling Reese Witherspoon.

The most astounding thing about Walk the Line is that (while it may not seem like it) both Phoenix and Witherspoon sing all the songs featured in the film themselves. And a good chuck of the movie consists of the two of them singing in concert. Which is why, if you're not a fan, you'll either: A. Be bored out of your mind; B. Develop a new appreciation for Cash and Carter's music; or C. Be only mildly engaged.

Other than the music, there's really nothing particularly special about Walk the Line. Yes, both Witherspoon and Phoenix turn in excellent performances, but most of the time they're singing. This is a movie for fans and those interested in Cash who want to know about the man a little bit better.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars