Review Date: January 05, 2006
Director: James Mangold
Writer: Gill Dennis, James Mangold
Producers: Cathy Conrad, James Keach
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny
Reese Witherspoon as June
Ginnifer Goodwin as Vivian
The true-life story of musical legend Johnny Cash, aka The Man in Black, starting from his roots as the son of a son-of-a-bitch farmer, the tragedy that befell his older brother, his early gigs with folks like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, and oh yeah, his ongoing (read: undying) love for a hot little country gal named June Carter. Along the way, a lot of songs are sprinkled about, medications are mixed with alcohol and Joaquin Phoenix acts his ass off! And it burns, burns, burns…that ring of fire!!
All together now, “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaw, now wasn’t that the cutest little love story?” I’m generally not a major fan of your typical musical bio-pics in which we’re shown the rich artist as a poor, l’il child, only to turn into a kickass singer later in life, complete with tough breaks in love and all sorts of drug and alcohol problems. That said, if you’re looking at this film on paper, that’s pretty much what you get, but if you actually watch the movie, you’ll get a lot more out of it, mainly due to the film’s two lead actors, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, both of whom take over their real-life counterparts’ personas entirely, and deliver two of the most resonant performances of the year. I think most people have already said this, but allow me to say it anyway: if these two actors aren’t nominated for respective Oscars this year, something’s wrong with the system…baby! Phoenix especially shines as the man in black, covering his entire adult development from the young, struggling, strapping lad that he was, all the way through his rise to fame (he got to hang with the young Elvis and shit…wow!), his descent into booze and his unrelenting wooing of one June Carter. I swear the man even looked like J.C. in a few scenes and sounded like him to boot. Wow.
And if you ever thought that you were persistent over a girl in your life, watch this movie and be amazed at the number of years (if not decades) that he spends chasing after this one lady…it’s amazing! (no wonder the poor man was driven to drink!) But not only is his lifelong pursuit an extraordinary feat in persistence, but in the case of Carter (aka Witherspoon), it may just be the longest cock-tease ever recorded on film. I mean, really lady…how long can you string a poor bastard along?!? Seriously though, if deep love, a percolating romance and a handful of cute moments between two people in love acting foolish are your cup ‘o tea, this film is likely to fill you up and then some. Add that to a very cool soundtrack, sung impressively by the two actors themselves, a good sense of time and place, a pudgy Robert Patrick in the role of the a-hole dad and you’ve got yourself a fun, loving musical biopic that will never be accused of reinventing the wheel, but certainly delivers in heart, devotion, musical goodness and yes, even a piece of American history. As for me, I’m off to buy the film’s soundtrack. Yeah, you heard me…I’m actually gonna “buy” it, not download it. I’m old school.
(c) 2014 Berge Garabedian