rated HOT! HOT! HOT!
There's been a certain amount if ill-informed
criticism of this film as being a fairly standard bio-pic. I
disagree, as I disagreed with the same criticism levelled at Ray, the Ray Charles bio-pic
(Taylor Hackford, 2004).
Here, the direction is a guge part of the way the film works.
James Mangold is constantly moving his camera, placing it in such a way
to make his stars, Joachim Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon look and feel
as much like the people they are playing as possible. Without
doing anything obvious, he makes Phoenix look tall, and shoots his
profile in such a way as to make Phoenix the image of Cash in some scenes.
In addition, in concert performance scenes, the camera often lingers on-stage, behind the
performers. This creates a kind of intimacy, helping us
feel part of the performance, so we can make an emotional connection
with the characters.
Some critics have complained that the structure of the film is the same
as that of most other bio-pics (including Ray). I say: "What's the
problem?". Many interesting lives have a similar arc
(particularly in the entertainment business). It goes like
this: poor but talented kid shows early promise, and somehow
through a combination of sacrifice, persistence, and a bit of good
luck, gets a chance. Sometimes this comes to little, but
eventually ther is success. However success leads to a stumble
and fall from grace (often drug or money-related). Then finally
some new element enters the life of our hero or heroine, and this
leads to redemption and true fulfillment. That's the way it goes,
and the temptation is to begin at the end and flash back to the
beginning. This flashback structure worked for Orson Welles &
Citizen Kane, and it continues to work today. It connects the
character we know with the one we don't know. It makes sense
logically. Mayber there's another way to do it, but its mere
familiarity doesn't make it faulty.
The casting of this film is extremely astute. You wouldn't have
expected the 2 main stars to work so well in their roles, but they
do. The fact that they both sing to is astonishing, and although
I would never buy the soundtrack that features Witherspoon and Phoenix
singing, I was fascinated to hear how, in the film, the 2 stars gave
the impression of the voices of Carter and cash. Here, I think
Phoenix is the more successful of the two. But Witherspoon has a
lovely country voice too.
The careful casting extends to the supporting players too. The
young Cash ( JR) and his elder brother Jack, and their father all look
Now a couple of scenes I loved: the scene when Sam Phillips finally
auditions Johnny Cash is electrifying. There's a very sweet scene
in a cafe where Cash talks to
Jack. Which brings me to the main thought I came away with
after the film: after a difficult relationship with his father and the
early loss of a brother, Johnny Cash wanted most of all a family of his
own. He got the wrong one at first, but eventually he got the
chance to make a new one, and that was what saved him.