Saturday, December 17

"WALK THE LINE"

My wife convinced me to go to the movies with her yesterday (catching me in a moment of weakness) and it's a good thing, as we enjoyed an absolutely well-done motion picture, replete with two superb performances by the male and female leads: "Walk The Line," starring Joaquin Phoenix (as country-western music legend Johnny Cash) and Reese Witherspoon (as country-western music legend June Carter Cash).

Oh, I'm an inveterate movie fan to be sure, but I loathe experiencing movies in movie houses these days because of the ill-mannered movie-goers who populate them. I've learned to content myself with Turner Classic Movies and DVDs in the comfort of my own home, sans the rudeness of those who talk through movies, munch popcorn with their mouths open, loudly slurp their soft drinks, put their feet up on the backs of theatre seats (even when occupied) and, horror-of-horrors, engage in cell phone conversations in usherless anarchy, reveling in their egregious sense of power. Indeed, I enjoy movies (particularly old movie classics) so much so that I cannot abide the distractions of ill-mannered people who think movie theatres are convocations for family room-style conversations, oblivious as they are to the people around them.

We experienced this very thing yesterday (an inevitability anymore), but moved to the rear of the theatre at the start of the film when it became all too apparent that the 50ish woman and her two 20s-something sons, who had plopped down directly behind us despite a scant, mid-afternoon audience, were going to gab at will. When my wife and I got up, I glared at the woman and she returned a look of utter mystification over what was upsetting me. Her sons were so busily talking that they were similarly oblivious.

But back to the film. Our family did a lot of camping in the Western National Parks when our sons were young and a careworn Johnny Cash cassette accompanied us on all of those trips. We came to know his songs by heart and those sing-a-longs are pleasant memories for me and my wife to this day. So our affection for Johnny Cash's music is born in part from our fond recollections of those trips to America's wilderness.

"I hear the train a comin', it's rollin' 'round the bend, and I ain't seen the sun shine, since I don't know when ... but I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die ..."

The boys would stretch out the word "die" in the song lyrics and with a make-shift, southern-style accent, so much so that you'd never know they had been born in California to a midwesterner father.

Notable in the film, apart from the riveting performances of Phoenix and Witherspoon, is that each sang the songs (including duettes) in their own voices. There's no lip-synching. If you close your eyes during some of the numbers, particularly those songs sung later in the film, you'll be hard-pressed to think that anyone other than Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash are singing them. You'll be convinced you're listening to recordings by the original artists. I found that simply amazing.

While the storyline takes few liberties with the real life stories of these two country music legends, it is disappointing that once again a film biography about a widely popular entertainer follows the all too familiar pattern of drugs and booze and adolescent immaturity before an awakening. Cash's life seems the C&W version of Ray Charles' and his epiphany was long in coming and required the intervention of the Carter Family, and even before June had become Johnny Cash's second wife. Interesting is that his Sun Records contemporaries -- Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis -- had similar price-of-fame addictions.

You don't have to be a Country-Western music fan to enjoy this movie, but I promise you that if you loved the music of Johnny Cash, as I did and continue to do, you'll not want to miss this film and the extraordinary piece of acting that Joaquin Phoenix delivers. Not long into the movie, you'll become convinced that you're not watching a portrayal of, but rather seeing the man-in-black, Johnny Cash, himself.

Music clip of John R. Cash!