7 May 2007 | Danusha_Goska
Phoenix Mesmerizing in a Raw Portrait of Masculine Power and Vulnerability
"Walk the Line" is a good movie, but what makes it well worth going out of your way for, even if you are not a country music or Johnny Cash fan, is Joaquin Phoenix's raw, mesmerizing performance of masculine power and vulnerability. Phoenix deserved the Academy Award for this performance, and more.
Early in the film, music producer Sam Phillips, in a wonderful speech encapsulating the power of pop music, demands a great performance out of the then unknown "J. R. Cash." Cash, who has not yet sung professionally, and who could have crumpled after Phillips' challenge, slowly emerges out of himself, like a snake emerging out of its skin. Phoenix communicates both the power and the risk of this performance. You heart breaks for what he's going through, and you get goosebumps for what he's about to become. That scene is worth the price of admission.
But there's more: success, sex with groupies, drugs, onstage triumphs and embarrassments, near death, and resurrection. Phoenix just knocks every scene right out of the park.
Phoenix is unforgettable as a man in love. I've never seen an actor communicate "in love with" a woman as profoundly as Phoenix does here.
As for the singing -- Phoenix does his own singing. His voice is close enough to Cash's to work, but it's more than that. It's also arresting and beautiful and worth listening to on its own.
There are some weaker performances / underwritten parts in "Walk the Line." Perhaps the filmmakers did this in order to make Cash, a drug addict and adulterer, more sympathetic to the audience. This was a mistake. Cash's story is compelling enough; we could handle placing Cash in a world populated by real people rather than cardboard cutouts.
"Walk the Line"'s Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison are not as hyper and unique onstage as they were in real life. Lewis, onstage, was about five times more electrified than he is depicted here. "Walk the Line"'s Elvis Presley is about junk food, trash talk, and drugs. The real Elvis was about those things, too, but he was also something more; that's not even hinted at, here.
The worst example of making others look like less so Cash would look like more is the film's portrayal of Vivian Cash, Johnny's first wife. She's just an unbearable horror show of a woman: unsupportive, grasping, snappish. She's not given one sympathetic moment. Vivian and Johnny's daughters have protested that Vivian was not well served by the movie. And Cash's mother is played by an actress who is roughly the same age as Phoenix, and that shows.
Reese Witherspoon won the Academy Award for her depiction of June Carter Cash. She is good. The script didn't make as clear her role as Cash's savior as Cash's own comments have.
I'm not a huge fan of country music, so I delayed seeing this movie. When I finally saw it what made it worth it, to me, was Phoenix's performance. He's just riveting, in every scene, and well worth seeing this movie for.