Sunday, February 12, 2006

Movie Review: Walk the Line

Rating: ***1/2

Since being married going to the cinema has become a rare thing. Pre-marriage (or really, pre-dating the woman who became my wife) I was going to the movies once, twice a week. Now, I’m lucky if I get to the movies once a month. I’d like to blame this solely on my wife (and in fact often do) but the reality is that it’s not really her fault.

I’m older. I have responsibilities. I can no longer spend every weekend in a darkened theatre watching the old celluloid. The wife is in graduate school, she teaches classes, she does adult learning at the library, and she can’t spend every weekend watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Put us together and it is difficult for us to spend a meal in each other’s company much less actually get out together.

When we do make it to the movies, I’m always very excited. Movie going is an almost spiritual experience for me. As a teenager my family and I bonded through movies. We might fight over everything else, but the cinema was shelter. To this day when I travel to Oklahoma to see my folks we inevitably go to the movies. It’s just built into our psyche. Family = movies.

So my wife and I went to the Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line the other day.

Worst audience ever.

But first we’ll talk about the theatre itself. It is an older one, made before the new wave of super-ultra theatres with 20 screens and stadium seating all equipped with your own personal Laz-E Boy.

The floor was pretty much flat. The walls were covered with ugly, green curtains circa 1972. The floors were sticky and unclean. The chairs were moldy and uncomfortable.

I go to the movies early. My preferred buffer of time is 30 minutes. This ensures I get the best seat (middle row, middle seat spaced between the speakers) and don’t miss a moment of the film. It’s also allows for things like traffic, and large crowds.

So, the movie starts, and of course there are two or three groups of people coming in late. Late! How hard is it to get to the movies on time? They have a schedule; it’s posted a week in advance for crying out loud. If you can’t show up on time, catch the next flick or stay at home.

These late comers come in, talking of course, and rudely continuing a conversation started in the lobby. There big heads get in the way of the screen while they shuffle into their seats.

The staff forgets to shut the door to the theatre so I can continually hear everybody in the aisles and hallways talking through the whole picture.

Oddly, a group of four, young, Asian girls sitting right in front of me get up and leave 10 minutes into the picture. Their spots are immediately taken up by a group of three middle-age to old ladies all wearing those floppy toboggans. Toboggans they do not take off and that all have the little fluffy balls on top. Little fluffy balls on top that get right in my line of sight.

I always get anxious before a film starts because of all the talking. But as the movies starts usually people shut the crap up. It works out this way for most of Walk the Line. Well, until old lady a couple of rows up gets a phone call on her cellular. Gladly, I don’t hear a ring, but she sure enough picks up and starts talking in the theatre.

“Hello. Who is this?”

She looks around a bit trying to decide if she can explain to the caller where she is and that she’ll call this person back. Nope, I guess she can’t because she gets up and continues chatting, loudly, as she walks out.

Really, who is that important that they have to answer their phone at every moment?

Cell phone lady leaves. Filmatic enjoyment continues. On the screen Johnny Cash begins to sing “Folsom Prison Blues” for Sam Phillips. Dude sitting next to my wife begins singing along. Not in a silent, toe tapping kind of way, but a belting it out for everyone to hear manner.

Ruins the cinematic moment.

Loud singing guy continues to talk through entire film. Just random stories about Johnny Cash’s life and what’s going on in the film.

Beyond the audience, there actually was a movie playing, and that a rather good one.

The film follows the life of Cash from childhood up until he marries June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix gives his usual wonderful performance as the Man in Black. It took me a little while to adjust to thinking of Joaquin as Johnny Cash. Cash was such a larger than life icon any actor would have difficulty portraying him. Yet after an initial adjustment period, Joaquin sinks right into the Cash skin.

Reese Witherspoon is an actress I enjoy, but have never really appreciated as a “real” actress. With films like Legally Blonde and Sweet Home Alabama under her belt it is difficult to take her seriously. She’s like Meg Ryan in that her bubbly enthusiasm is hard not to get swept up in, but as a serious actress she’s rarely had the chance to prove herself. At least in my experience.

She plays June Carter in the same exuberant manner we’ve come to expect from Reese. It is a June Carter I’ve never seen before. I know the June Carter Cash of the last few years of her life: a reserved, loving wife; a kindly woman, and lovely singer. It was a strange thing to see her full of the zestful energy reserved for young country stars. Not that this isn’t an accurate portrayal of Ms Carter during this part of her life, it’s just a part of her life I’ve never seen before.

All is not bubbles and fun though, and Reese brings a weight to the character that is smart and well performed. We can see the difficulties of being a young woman carrying on the legacy of her family and still trying to be a modern woman. We can understand the heartache she feels as she both loves Johnny Cash and abhors the life he is living. It is a fine performance all around.

It is a fine film that doesn’t really cover any new ground, biopic wise. There is the troubled childhood, the rise to stardom, the hard fall with drugs and pain and the redemption through love and a little concert amongst hardened criminals.

For Cash fans there isn’t any new ground dug up, but it’s a lot of fun. The leads perform to perfection, and the songs are classic. For non fans the story is a good one and the performances are enough to make a few new fans along the way.

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