So I saw two movies over the past two days, both “bio-pics” and both
quite good in their own way. It seems that
Ray is what biographical films
get compared to of late, probably due to Foxx’s Oscar win. I haven’t
seen Ray, so I can’t make that comparison. What I can say of both
Capote and Walk The
Line is that it’s been a long
time since I saw acting so compelling, so convincing in a film. Capote
was incredibly good — Philip Seymour Hoffman does an amazing job with
Capote’s voice, ticks and mannerisms, and as such I found him completely
believable. I’ve loved Hoffman since his performance opposite De Niro in
Flawless, and he did not disappoint.
But Walk The Line was an even more incredible movie experience. Maybe
because of the memories associated with Johnny Cash that I brought to
the movie. I grew up listening to The Man in Black on 8-Track, lying in
front of my dad’s stereo wearing his oversized headphones, blissfully
switching between “programs” (for those who never had the joy of a
8-Track, there are 8 audio tracks written to the medium — two tracks
(for stereo sound) for 4 “programs”). Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t look much
like Cash. There are a few scenes with young Cash and young Elvis
touring together (“you want some chili fries?”), and I actually thought
Phoenix looked more like I picture Elvis in my mind than the actor
playing Elvis, but that’s neither here nor there. Despite the lack of
physical similarity, Phoenix was Cash in my mind by the end of the film.
I knew going into the film that both Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who
plays June Carter[-Cash], had performed their own vocals for the film.
From the first time she opened her mouth and sang, Witherspoon convinced
me she was a member of the first family of country music. My family used
to vacation in Gatlinburg, TN, and Witherspoon’s Carter was exactly how
I remember those performers. I was initially disappointed by Phoenix’s
vocals — “nice, I thought, but no Johnny.” But as the film progressed I
found them more and more convincing. I’m not sure if it was an
intentional decision on the part of the filmmakers — I guess it’s
reasonable to assume that Cash’s voice and sound matured as his career
progressed — or if it was simply due to being drawn in, but by the end
of the film, I was convinced that Cash himself was singing.
So I love Johnny Cash, so either this film had a high bar or I was
pre-disposed to like it (or perhaps both), but it was satisfying in
every sense. It focuses on Johnny’s early career paying particular
attention to the years immediately following his signing to Sun Records,
through his prescription drug addiction, to his marriage to June Carter.
As I said earlier, Witherspoon’s performance as June Carter completely
changed my mind about her acting capabilities. It was refreshing to have
the view that Witherspoon==Legally Blond challenged; I guess I never
considered that she was acting for that film as well. Duh, Nathan.
I had the good fortune of catching the re-air of Johnny Cash and June
yesterday afternoon after seeing the film. I don’t much care for country
music these days, but hearing his voice on the radio reminded me just
how sad it was when he died in 2003. Hopefully Walk The Line will
expose his life and especially his music to a whole new audience who
hasn’t heard it before.