Walk the Line

by J.D. Roth

I’ve been listening to Johnny Cash for a little over two years, only having discovered him after he died, yet it seems to me I’ve been hearing his music my entire life.

Perhaps this is because The Essential Johnny Cash (two CDs, thirty-six songs) has become the official soundtrack of “J.D. getting things done around Rosings Park”. My old stereo lives in the workshop. Whenever I have work to do there, or in the garage, or in the yard, I turn on Johnny Cash and let him sing. After nearly two years of this, I’ve gotten to the point where I need Johnny Cash in order to do any significant labor outside. (For example, Johnny Cash was blaring on Saturday morning as we hauled barkdust.) I can’t start working until I hear the familiar tones of the first song: “Hey Porter! Hey Porter! Won’t you give me a sign? How much longer will it be til we cross that Mason-Dixon Line?” I also have a Johnny Cash playlist that resides permanently on my iPod.

Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic from last year, is remarkably similar to 2004’s Ray, which told the life of Ray Charles. This plot summary could describe either film: a young boy is raised in poverty, suffers the death of a beloved brother, carries on due to a love of music, struggles to find a Voice, records some hit records, becomes a slave to Vice, and overcomes said slavery through the love of a woman, who saves him from destroying his life.

Walk the Line and Ray are both well-made films, but they’re both just sort of there. They’re a little dull to watch at times, the inevitable result of trying to compress a lifetime of experience into two hours while still putting the artist’s greatest hits on screen.

That being said, I liked Walk the Line better than I liked Ray, if only because I’m now familiar with Johnny Cash and his music. It was fun to watch Joaquin Phoenix (as Cash) and Reese Witherspoon (as June Carter) melt into these characters, actually performing the songs themselves.

Walk the Line is certainly worth seeing if you like Johnny Cash.

Updated: 04 April 2006

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