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The UnPopular Opinion: Walk The Line

02.26.2015

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

There are certain types of movies that are what neatly fit into the category of Oscar Bait.  You know the movies: melodramatic films that usually feature a romance between lovers, one of whom is often dying, the other dealing with a traumatic life event or drug addiction.  These films are often set in a historical timeframe, often during World War II, and occasionally feature someone coming from nothing and reaching success only to have it snatched from their grasp before somehow regaining it for a happy ending.  These movies have often taken trophies in every category, sometimes in the same year.  But, in hindsight, they often lack something that would make them great movies.  WALK THE LINE is one of those films.

James Mangold’s biopic of Johnny Cash has everything that should automatically make it a Best Picture nominee before anyone had seen the film.  In fact, WALK THE LINE fits nearly all of the criteria listed above.  Hell, if it had featured anything about the Holocaust, it likely would have beaten the equally lackluster CRASH that year.  While WALK THE LINE was not nominated for Best Picture in 2005, it did garner nominations in five categories and took home accolades from several other critical groups.  I am still left baffled why this movie is so beloved and went as far as to sell three million copies when it hit DVD.  Like RAY and the recent released GET ON UP, WALK THE LINE suffers from being a generic and watered down Hollywood fairy tale version of a true life story.

I sense a color scheme going on here but cannot quite put my finger on it.

Even non-country music fans know the rags to riches story of Johnny Cash.  There is drug addiction, a tragic death during his childhood, and marriage followed by finding true love.  Clearly this means Johnny Cash deserves to have his tale told on the big screen.  The problem is, aside from the genre-defying music and famous musicians he played with during his career, there is just not enough to warrant a feature film.  By choosing to only examine the first half of Cash’s life and career leading up to his marriage to June Carter, James Mangold and co-writer Gill Dennis limited their own tale.  Along with that, WALK THE LINE is based off of Cash’s own autobiographies and yet smacks of Hollywood revisionism.

The hilarious spoof WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY took all of the same elements from WALK THE LINE and showcased just how generic Mangold’s film actually is.  There is really nothing special in this film that elevates to more than the caliber of a network television movie.  Everything looks like it was filmed on a studio backlot without any of the flair or style we would see in Mangold’s subsequent films like 3:10 TO YUMA, KNIGHT AND DAY, and THE WOLVERINE.  WALK THE LINE doesn’t even have any of the style from the director’s prior films, IDENTITY and COPLAND.  How could a filmmaker get stuck with such a creatively devoid on screen product?  Likely due to studio involvement as Johnny Cash’s children have openly stated their criticism at the film and how their parents were portrayed.

The Man in Black fled across the desert and The Gunslinger followed.

But, a movie like WALK THE LINE is generally lauded for the performances and not the movie, right?  I mean, Reese Witherspoon did win the Oscar for playing June Carter, but it ranks as one of the most undeserving trophies in recent Oscar memory.  Sure, she can sing, but her modicum of screen-time was at best a supporting actress award.  Joaquin Phoenix himself was good in the lead role but not great.  Phoenix has been far more deserving in roles before and after WALK THE LINE.  In fact, when looking at biopics in general, you have actors who do great impressions of the person they are playing (Jamie Foxx in RAY) and those who embody their counterpart while also delivering an oustanding performance (Eddie Redmayne in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING).  Phoenix is a phenomenal talent, but his Johnny Cash feels neither like an impression nor a truly monumental performance.  For those who have seen Oliver Stone's U-TURN, Phoenix feels like he is using his Toby N. Tucker character as a jumping off point for playing Cash.

The music is what makes WALK THE LINE so memorable.  People who are not into country music or know much about Johnny Cash likely feel that the man was a larger than life character based on how the movie showcases him.  We get his iconic musical moments including Folsom Prison and his proposal to June, but the movie feels like part one of a larger tale.  Focusing a biopic on a specific part of a life has worked for other films, but WALK THE LINE builds up like an all-encompassing portrait of Johnny Cash only to abruptly end when it is staring to get good.  While Cash's later life was not nearly as interesting as the first, maybe that was a signal that it wasn't film worthy.

Everyone looks so excited to be here.  And look: more black!

WALK THE LINE is a fine movie, but is in no way memorable.  What we take away from seeing it is the music of Johnny Cash which is neither enhanced by the film nor revolutionized.  If there was a kit for filmmaking by the numbers, this is a prime example.  Movies do not always have to inspire or rouse us or even do something different than films before it, but they should do something.  WALK THE LINE does nothing.  After the film ends and the credits roll, you are likely to ask yourself "was that it?" and no movie worth a damn should ever garner a reaction like that.  In fact, if WALK THE LINE succeeds at anything it is showing us what to avoid when trying to tell a true life story.  By walking the line, this movie goes down in a ring of fire.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

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Source: JoBlo.com

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3:16PM on 02/26/2015
I totally agree with this article.
I totally agree with this article.
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11:44AM on 02/26/2015
I visit this site everyday and only rarely do I feel the need to strike back. I remember being 12 and watching this movie in a car on a tiny screen and loved every second of it. Seen it probably 5 times since then and still feel the same way. I love the music in the film and I love JP's performance. To me this goes right next to Forest Gump as a movie I'll turn on any time it's on TV.
I visit this site everyday and only rarely do I feel the need to strike back. I remember being 12 and watching this movie in a car on a tiny screen and loved every second of it. Seen it probably 5 times since then and still feel the same way. I love the music in the film and I love JP's performance. To me this goes right next to Forest Gump as a movie I'll turn on any time it's on TV.
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11:44AM on 02/26/2015
I visit this site everyday and only rarely do I feel the need to strike back. I remember being 12 and watching this movie in a car on a tiny screen and loved every second of it. Seen it probably 5 times since then and still feel the same way. I love the music in the film and I love JP's performance. To me this goes right next to Forest Gump as a movie I'll turn on any time it's on TV.
I visit this site everyday and only rarely do I feel the need to strike back. I remember being 12 and watching this movie in a car on a tiny screen and loved every second of it. Seen it probably 5 times since then and still feel the same way. I love the music in the film and I love JP's performance. To me this goes right next to Forest Gump as a movie I'll turn on any time it's on TV.
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10:50AM on 02/26/2015
I don't think your opinion is Unpopular.
I don't think your opinion is Unpopular.
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9:55AM on 02/26/2015
I like your Dark Tower reference.
I like your Dark Tower reference.
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9:43AM on 02/26/2015
I love Johnny Cash. I don't love this movie. It hit every note that Ray did only a couple of years earlier, and Ray did it better.

Having said that, I don't hate this either. Joaquin Phoenix is about as good as you could do for an actor to play the Man in Black. Reese Witherspoon was good, but her voice was too pretty. June Carter Cash didn't have a very pretty singing voice, so I can never pretend that I'm seeing anyone other than Reese Witherspoon pretending.

The real reason I don't
I love Johnny Cash. I don't love this movie. It hit every note that Ray did only a couple of years earlier, and Ray did it better.

Having said that, I don't hate this either. Joaquin Phoenix is about as good as you could do for an actor to play the Man in Black. Reese Witherspoon was good, but her voice was too pretty. June Carter Cash didn't have a very pretty singing voice, so I can never pretend that I'm seeing anyone other than Reese Witherspoon pretending.

The real reason I don't hate this movie though is because I love Walk Hard. And more than any other movie, this was the template that movie used.
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9:35AM on 02/26/2015
I completely agree with the writer this time. And with the trailer for Love and Mercy just being released, I'm happy at least that its brought to light. Phoenix is absolutely one of the most talented working actors, and I won't take that away from him. He did great with his role. But these musician bio movies are very formulaic and got old a long time ago. And Walk the Line probably embodied it more than any others. Bio movies can be done creatively, just look at The Aviator and the next
I completely agree with the writer this time. And with the trailer for Love and Mercy just being released, I'm happy at least that its brought to light. Phoenix is absolutely one of the most talented working actors, and I won't take that away from him. He did great with his role. But these musician bio movies are very formulaic and got old a long time ago. And Walk the Line probably embodied it more than any others. Bio movies can be done creatively, just look at The Aviator and the next Steve Jobs movie definitely sounds like it won't be run of the mill. But until I see a trailer for a musician bio movie that brings something different to the table, they won't find any love from me.
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7:03AM on 02/26/2015

didnt like the film

am a massive Johnny Cash fan and enjoy Mangold as a director but this just never clicked with me. Phoenix never fully personified Cash in a way that say Jamie Foxx did in Ray or Kurt Russell did in Elvis. Also the formula to the piece felt generic and safe. Cash lived a dark, mad and colorful life and they basically delve into it as clean as possible. Still the focus was on the romance between him and Carter and that aspect was well done, I just wanted to see more of his life. Not a bad film,
am a massive Johnny Cash fan and enjoy Mangold as a director but this just never clicked with me. Phoenix never fully personified Cash in a way that say Jamie Foxx did in Ray or Kurt Russell did in Elvis. Also the formula to the piece felt generic and safe. Cash lived a dark, mad and colorful life and they basically delve into it as clean as possible. Still the focus was on the romance between him and Carter and that aspect was well done, I just wanted to see more of his life. Not a bad film, just felt it was a missed opportunity and overrated.
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4:32AM on 02/26/2015
I enjoyed the film but Maidy is right that Witherspoon in no way deserved an Oscar for her performance. It was one of those "Oops" Oscars that the Academy gives out when they realize they overlooked an actors better performance, i.e. Reese should have gotten a supporting nod/win for Election. Whoopi didn't win for The Color Purple but won for Ghost!
I enjoyed the film but Maidy is right that Witherspoon in no way deserved an Oscar for her performance. It was one of those "Oops" Oscars that the Academy gives out when they realize they overlooked an actors better performance, i.e. Reese should have gotten a supporting nod/win for Election. Whoopi didn't win for The Color Purple but won for Ghost!
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3:12AM on 02/26/2015
Walk The Line is a prime example of why I tend to dislike biopics. Reducing a man's life to fit that three act structure is just disrespectful - especially in Walk The Line. Cherry picking what they want, just to make the most melodramatic pile of garbage possible. Hate it.
Walk The Line is a prime example of why I tend to dislike biopics. Reducing a man's life to fit that three act structure is just disrespectful - especially in Walk The Line. Cherry picking what they want, just to make the most melodramatic pile of garbage possible. Hate it.
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1:47AM on 02/26/2015
It's all about the clicks not the content.
It's all about the clicks not the content.
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10:29AM on 02/26/2015
No, you are completely incorrect on that.

I disagree with the opinion of this column quite often, but in this particular case I agree. I've watched this film three times and not because I loved it, but because I felt I'd missed something along the way with all the hype. I didn't get it and still don't. It has a few compelling moments and a good performance from Phoenix, but it's not a knockout, holy shit, so-damn-good movie. I think a lot of folks have built it up in their minds that Walk
No, you are completely incorrect on that.

I disagree with the opinion of this column quite often, but in this particular case I agree. I've watched this film three times and not because I loved it, but because I felt I'd missed something along the way with all the hype. I didn't get it and still don't. It has a few compelling moments and a good performance from Phoenix, but it's not a knockout, holy shit, so-damn-good movie. I think a lot of folks have built it up in their minds that Walk The Line is a slice of brilliance just because it was nominated for some Oscars or out of respect for the real Johnny Cash, but it's really just a film that doesn't live up to the hype. I won't be watching it a fourth time to see if I'm wrong.
3:42PM on 02/26/2015
Ummm, no I'm not. But I respect your opinion.
Ummm, no I'm not. But I respect your opinion.
12:25AM on 02/26/2015
Somehow I think this column is urging users to post Negative comments here. Walk the Line is Joaquin Phoenix's best and the only Reese Whitherspoon movie that I could tolerate her in it. It is a great movie.
Somehow I think this column is urging users to post Negative comments here. Walk the Line is Joaquin Phoenix's best and the only Reese Whitherspoon movie that I could tolerate her in it. It is a great movie.
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12:15AM on 02/26/2015
Soloist - telling it like it is.
Soloist - telling it like it is.
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12:06AM on 02/26/2015
This movie is terrific with a tour de force from Phoenix. So I don't agree with one word of this article and I feel like this column is just being forced now.
This movie is terrific with a tour de force from Phoenix. So I don't agree with one word of this article and I feel like this column is just being forced now.
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4:30AM on 02/26/2015
Only now? ;)
Only now? ;)
1:51PM on 02/26/2015
agreed Soloist
agreed Soloist
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