Walk the Line

Enjoyable for the music and performances, but not for originality.

Reese Witherspoon should win an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of June Carter, the wife of country/pop legend Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) in Walk the Line, the biography of Cash until the two married.

Director James Mangold takes no chances with this biopic: Cash is as we knew him: hard driving, substance abusive, womanizing, and one of the most talented musicians of the 20th century. Because the same could be said of Ray Charles in last year's Ray, both the lives of some great entertainers and the films that depict them could be considered formulas no one dares to tamper with. It's tough to earn an A in this genre for originality.

Phoenix does a credible job imitating Cash although the screenplay offers little insight into how he developed his style or why he was abusive to himself and Carter; however it does play ad nauseam the conflict between Cash and his tight-fisted father, Ray (Robert Patrick). Phoenix has down Cash's signature roll with his guitar and more famously the basso greeting to each audience, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

Would that Mangold had spent more time with Cash and Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts), the Sun Records mogul, who weaned Cash from gospel into music from his heart. As it is, we have one tryout session, enough to make me want much more of that creative molding. The Folsom Prison sequence captures the gritty and humane side of Cash, who not only thought this was the best audience on the tour but also empathized with their bad boy backgrounds.

Too much time is spent watching Cash fall and then rise again--enough already, I get the idea within 5 minutes. And would that we could have more of Witherspoon and Phoenix singing together; they may not be as good as Cash and Carter, but they surely are electric enough to hold my delighted attention. In whole, Walk the Line is enjoyable for the music and performances, but not for originality.