Walk the Line (Blu-ray)
Directed by James Mangold
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 135 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish, others
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Korean, others
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: February 2, 2010
Review Date: February 5, 2010
Show biz biographies whether they be in print or on the screen often seem to be almost guaranteed some measure of success, even when they aren’t very good. James Mangold’s Walk the Line is very good indeed; in fact, it’s the best show biz film biography produced during the first decade of this century. Because it doesn’t attempt to cover an entire life but rather puts its focus on the troubled life and rebirth of singer-songwriter Johnny Cash over about a fifteen year period (apart from some childhood scenes), the film doesn’t seem to be spread too thin, and the trip down and the trip back up, as predictable as those stories can sometimes be, get the attention they deserve without being the sole focus of the man’s story.
After struggling to make a living as a door-to-door salesman, J.R. Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) walks into the soon-to-be-famous Sun Studios in Memphis: a moment that would have an indelible effect on American culture. With his driving freight-train guitar chords, steel-eyed intensity, and a voice (and wardrobe) as deep and black as night, Cash sings blistering songs of heartache and survival that are gutsy, full of real life, and unlike anything heard before. As he, along with such other talented artists like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Waylon Jennings, pioneers a fiercely original sound that became known as rockabilly, Cash begins a rough-and-tumble journey of personal transformation. Though flush with success, he indulges in popping pills leading to a serious addiction. Only through the love and patience of his co-star on the road June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) with whom he falls deeply in love despite their both having spouses elsewhere does Johnny learn how to walk the razor-thin line between destruction and redemption.
Co-writer/director James Mangold along with writing partner Gill Dennis has scripted a fairly standardized biography. It takes strides toward greatness with the heartfelt story’s being so simply and beautifully told, from the opening tragic childhood accident that robs the young Johnny of his older brother and best friend Jack to convincing scenes of Johnny’s shaky audition with Sun Studios’ Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) and the real-life feel of the booze-soaked bus tour with fellow wild men Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne) with acres of temptation in petticoats just inches away from them at all times. By the time we’ve witnessed several humiliating Cash breakdowns both on and off stage and gloried in one of the most beautifully moving and superbly shot proposals on-stage in Ontario, the film has won us over completely. And with stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon doing all of their own singing, the succession of Cash and Carter hits like “Cry, Cry, Cry,” “Get the Rhythm,” “Time’s a Wastin’,” “Jackson,” the title tune, and “Ring of Fire” are glorious numbers to be savored time and again.
Joaquin Phoenix is a revelation as Johnny Cash. With a slight physical resemblance to the man, his voice deepens as the film goes along, almost to the point one would think the producers were using old recordings of Cash rather than using the film star’s own voice. In the dramatic scenes he’s also mesmerizing playing the mixture of sadness and driven passion within Johnny about as well as it’s ever been played. Reese Witherspoon complements Joaquin Phoenix’s performance with a solid, endearing portrayal of her own, making June Carter bubbly on the surface but as a deeply respectful and proud woman whose loyalty is fierce and utterly commendable. Ginnifer Goodwin has some good moments as Johnny’s first wife Vivian while Robert Patrick plays Johnny’s embittered father with a mixture of brittle disappointment and accusing mistrust.
The film’s 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a wonderfully focused and strong 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is commendable in the image and color values are solid without over enhanced hues blooming out of control. The image is also completely clean of dirt and debris and doesn’t appear to have any obvious artifacts or edge enhancement. The film has been divided into 36 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is superb. You know you’re in audio heaven within the first few seconds as the repetitive, thumping bass notes of “Cry, Cry, Cry” at Folsom Prison echo through the soundfield and subwoofer as the crowd waits for Johnny’s entrance. The entire music score receives thrilling treatment with strong vocals from the center channel and the rest of the instrumentation spread through the fronts with the rears reserved for crowd reactions and other ambient sounds.
The audio commentary by director James Mangold is exceptional. Talking throughout this lengthy feature, the director broaches every possible aspect of the production from script writing to casting to filming and with an agreeable voice that’s a pleasure to listen to.
There are ten deleted scenes which may be viewed individually or in one 23 ¼-minute grouping. There is also an optional James Mangold commentary available with each clips explaining why the scene was cut. They’re presented in 1080p.
There are three extended musical numbers which may be watched together for 5 ¾ minutes or individually. They are “Rock and Roll Ruby,” “Jackson,” and “Cocaine Blues.” They’re in 1080p.
“Folsom, Cash, and the Comeback” features friends of Johnny’s (as well as guards and inmates at the prison) speaking about the importance of the Folsom concert (which bookends the movie) to providing Johnny with the comeback he needed at this point in his career. It’s in 480i and runs for 11 ¾ minutes.
“Celebrating the Man in Black: The Making of Walk the Line” is a made-for-television documentary on the film’s production featuring friends of Cash’s along with the movie’s producer, director, and leading actors discussing their feelings about the production. In 480i, it runs for 21 ¾ minutes and is hosted by Kris Kristofferson.
“Ring of Fire: The Passion of Johnny and June” is another featurette featuring friends of the Cash family discussing the soulmated relationship between Johnny Cash and June Carter. This 11 ½-minute featurette is presented in 480i.
The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs 1 ¾ minutes.
The disc contains 1080p trailers for Man on Fire, Wall Street, The Devil Wears Prada, Cast Away, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
4.5/5 (not an average)
A simply smashing screen biography of music legends Johnny and June Carter Cash which plays straight with the facts and its presentation and winds up being imminently watchable and memorable. The Blu-ray presents the film with exceptional sound and picture quality and features a nice selection of bonus material. Highly recommended!