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Critics Love Walk the Line

Dec. 7, 2005 –– In 1955 a skinny guitar-slinging kid who called himself J. R. Cash walked into Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and….you know, the rest is cultural history.
Director James Mangold adapted Walk the Line from Cash's two autobiographies, and he retains many of Cash's personal lows (the childhood death of his brother and his disapproving father, played by Robert Patrick) and career highs (too many to count), bookending the film with the classic 1968 Folsom Prison concert.
Critics love it.
Unlikely as stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherespoon as Johnny and June Carter Cash may seem at first glance –– Phoenix isn't nearly tall enough, and Witherspoon's bone structure is way off –– they give outstanding performances, the critics say. In fact, legend has it that Cash actually told Phoenix he would like him to perform the role.
"Witherspoon's Carter comes on like a creation from the funny pages, but the girlishness is an act. As the movie goes on her character deepens," says Wesley Morris in the Boston Globe.
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune arts critic, says, "Phoenix is first-rate and scarily committed in the role of an Arkansas sharecropper's son. The actor contributes his own vocals in pretty fair Cash-esque voice, though his sound is lighter and higher, lacking the original's rumbling authority."
In a thoughtful review, Phillips, says director Mangold compares biopic movies to a "cliche-ridden gorge." On the other side of the gorge, he says, "lies an artist's idea of the truth behind a famous life, along with the thing that is better than truth: genuine dramatic vitality."
Phillips says,"Mangold stays clear of the gorge, for the most part. At its best his film carries the emotional urgency of Coal Miner's Daughter, the Loretta Lynn biopic of a generation ago. Relaying its version of how Cash met, wooed, disappointed and finally married Carter, in between hits and flops and Benzedrine, Walk the Line does require you to put up with some whitewash and hogwash, the two most common ingredients in the biopic genre. Yet the actors dig beneath the semi-glossy surface."
The movie follows the Arkansas farms boy's life pre-fame and pre-Carter, through an unsuccessful first marriage to his first wife Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), that produced four children, through his turbulent career and his pursuit of Carter, including his on-stage marriage proposal, which Phillips says, "has been turned into the dramatic climax of Walk the Line and it feels hoked-up——a Hollywood lie that happens to be factually true.
Maybe critic Roger Ebert describes Cash's dynamic best: "Johnny Cash sang like he meant business. He didn't get fancy and he didn't send his voice on missions it could not complete, but there was an urgency in his best songs that pounded them home. When he sang something, it stayed sung."
Carter died in May 2003, four months before Cash.
The two hour and 15 minute movie is rated PG-13 for some language, thematic material and descriptions of drug dependency.
It is playing at Market Square East.

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