While growing up in the Great Depression era, Johnny Cash takes an interest in music and eventually moves out of his Arkansas town to join the air force in Germany. While there, he buys his first guitar and writes his own music, and proposes to Vivian. When they got married, they settled in Tennessee and with a daughter, he supported the family by being a salesman. He discovers a man who can pursue his dreams and ends up getting a record with the boys. Shortly after that, he was on a short tour, promoting his songs, and meets the already famous and beautiful June Carter. Then as they get on the long-term tours with June, the boys, and Jerry Lee Lewis, they have this unspoken relationship that grows. But when June leaves the tour because of his behavior, he was a drug addict. His marriage was also falling apart, and when he sees June years later at an awards show, he forces June to tour with them again, promising June to support her two kids and herself. While the tour goes on, the ... Written by
During one scene Johnny Cash is high and performing "I Got Stripes", he walks right up to June Carter and glares at her for an uncomfortably long period of time on stage. According to the director, James Mangold, this was unscripted and improvised by the actors. Mangold said that he simply told Joaquin Phoenix to do what he would do in real life if he were angry at his girlfriend and then had to perform on stage with her. Much to Phoenix's surprise, this backfired and Reese Witherspoon responded to his actions by simply rolling her eyes, and continuing to perform the song. Phoenix later said that her reaction threw him off because his goal had been to make her as uncomfortable as possible on stage. See more »
Johnny Cash smashed the footlights at the Grand Ole Opry, not in Las Vegas as in the film. See more »
Whenever I see so much "Oscar worthy" tags/blurbs in an ad campaign I get nervous, see Cinderella Man. Usually you look closely at the fine print and see that the esteemed critic lauding the film is Joe Schmoe from the One Stop Light Bugle Press in Buttcreek, Illinois or a low level flunky who just happens to work for the media conglomerate that is distributing the film. So my heart sank a little when a film I have been eagerly awaiting was swaddled with such praise when the ads hit the air.
But they're right for once.
Joaquin Phoenix wears Johnny Cash like a suit. He isn't doing a Rich Little impersonation, you don't rub your eyes in disbelief, but he channels a man so distinct in appearance and voice to a level that is beyond admirable. One of the traits that made Johnny Cash a legend was that nobody sounded or looked like him. Short of a computer generated Cash walking around in his own bio-pic like one of those John Wayne beer commercials this is the definitive representation.
And yet Phoenix may not give the best performance in the film.
Reese Witherspoon more than holds up her end in a role that easily could have been reduced to a clichéd bumpkin. Witherspoon portrays the on-stage June in the way June portrayed her own "character", the stage persona that people adored, while giving her the resolve and inner strength to be the woman who tamed a hell-bent, grizzly bear of a man like John.
The chemistry of Phoenix and Witherspoon together in any scene, but their on-stage duets in particular, are truthful in a way that resonates long after the credits. I know that unless you have been living in a cave for the past week you have likely been bombarded with the word that the actors sing themselves without use of lip syncing. I have never been a fan of musicals, or even musical performances in a film. They generally seem forced and uncomfortable to me, the moment when I stop experiencing the story and feel reminded that I am watching a movie. I never felt that in this film. I never felt that their singing took the focus of the film, but the performances work with the story like no other music bio I have ever seen. I never felt as if I was being led through the catalog, the songs felt as organic and natural as any spoken dialog in a great narrative.
This film far exceeded my expectations and afforded me the first trip home from a theater with a true feeling of satisfaction in a very, very long time. Highly recommended.
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