In the wake of last year's Oscar winning Ray Charles biopic Ray comes another misty-eyed trawl through the early years of a musical legend. Country crooner Johnny Cash, played here by Joaquin Phoenix, was as famous for his dedication to drugs and booze as he was for his music. Walk The Line's treatment of his story is depressingly staid, but it is saved by a combination of great music and palpable sexual chemistry between the leads.
This is a love story really. Ignoring the second half of his subject's life, director James Mangold concentrates on Cash's childhood and rise to fame, culminating in the famous live concert at Folsom Prison in 1968. It's a sensible decision, since this period is anchored by Cash's lengthy romance with June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) and covers the darkest days of his addiction. Like Ray, the story is utterly conventional and would seem formulaic if it wasn't true: blazing talent saved from drug hell by love of good woman. Shucks.
It might have been nice to see a thorough investigation into what drove Cash; what we get is more like a trainride past the relevant narrative signposts, from his brother's death, to recording at Sun studios, to the inevitable drug bust and rehab. Still, it's bags of fun, if a little overlong. Phoenix, with his dark eyes and bad-boy aura, is perfectly cast as Cash, and he strikes serious sparks with Witherspoon's brass-mouthed comedienne. Both perform their own songs and do an incredible job. Expect to see them on the podium at Oscar time.