WALK THE LINE (James Mangold). 136 minutes. Opens Friday (November 18). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Walk The Line comes hot on the dusty heels of that other biopic about a man who rose from humble Southern origins to achieve musical immortality. But unlike Ray, which was more imaginatively directed, this look at country legend Johnny Cash is less concerned with music than it is with the years-long delayed physical gratification between Cash ( Joaquin Phoenix ) and his future second wife, musician June Carter ( Reese Witherspoon ). It's a love story, with music as a backdrop.
Based on two autobiographies by the Man in Black, the film is bookended by Cash's historic 1968 concert at Folsom Prison, where his songs about temptation and redemption obviously resonate. After the first scene, we travel back to his Arkansas cotton farm childhood, where two things are underlined for us with primary-school obviousness: Cash's brother's death in a sawmill accident and his father's subsequent resentment of him.
Director/co-writer James Mangold glosses over the musician's army years, provides some colourful scenes about the man's early music - one of the best of these pits Cash against producer Sam Phillips ( Dallas Roberts ) - then travels a familiar biopic highway called Booze, Drugs And Women.
Phoenix, always intense, captures the coltish energy and whiff of danger beneath Cash's flinty persona, but while he sings each bass note with studied accuracy, there's something withheld and hesitant about the performance. As an actor, he shines more in supporting roles.
Witherspoon, on the other hand, is completely at home in her character's sensible, responsible skin. She sells June Carter's perky, sassy songs - and her sharp comebacks to Johnny's entreaties - with total authority.