WALK THE LINE (Blu-ray Edition)
20th Century Fox | 2005 | 135 mins | Rated PG-13 | Feb 02, 2010
Written by David Hillyer
February 18, 2010
Walk the Line is based on the autobiography of musician Johnny Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix). He and his wife June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon) were involved in the production of the movie before they both passed away within four months of each other prior to the film being finished. That is a very telling illustration of the heart of this movie. Whatever you may think about the many flaws of these people – from drugs to drinking to adultery – no one can deny their love for each other.
Walk the Line uses Johnny Cash's historic live concert in Folsom Prison to provide bookends for the film. That concert was in many ways a “comeback” concert for him. He had spent a lot of time touring with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and others. Life on the road took its toll on Cash. He was divorced and was spending more time in a haze of drugs and alcohol. He hit bottom.
Throughout all those trials, June Carter was there – either by phone or writing and singing duets right alongside Cash. She had her own issues at home. But she seemed to have an unshakable optimism that brought a steadiness to Johnny's life. In all of life's trials, they had their music, each other, and God. There is a subtile spiritual side to the film – this was a time when everyone professed to be a Christian or at least have some moral values. But the film isn't preachy and makes no attempt to present a Gospel message... though I suppose something could be said for stories of rescues and redemption.
What binds the glimpses of their life together is the music. My parents had the heavily edited original 33 RPM record of the Folsom concert. I remember hearing some of those songs and thinking that Johnny Cash was a hard core criminal. The “Man in Black” was one of the greatest gimmicks of the day. Everyone was a fan of Cash. The toe tapping music brought young and old to their feet making more than a few buy a guitar. Concerts consisted of a mix of gospel songs and the Cash brand of bass slapping backbeat rhythm and blues. The music is almost timeless and Phoenix and Witherspoon did an amazing job capturing the couple and the sound.
I didn't expect much in video quality for Walk the Line. Most “period” movies tend to have some lame artistic style with yellow filters or excessive grain added in post to make it look old. Thankfully, director James Mangold chose to shoot 'as is' and it looks wonderful. The detail level on the film is often stunning in detail. If there are any flaws it would be in color vibrancy, but I have to say that I was so drawn in to the movie that I didn't notice the muted colors. Overall, the 2.39:1 AVC @24 MPBS picture of Walk the Line is a fine example of what Blu-Ray can be.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio of Walk the Line is another nearly flawless soundtrack. The center channel vocals are crisp and clear – which is vital in this film as Joaquin Phoenix often is acting as a drunk or stoned Johnny Cash, which often meant quiet or slurred speech. I never strained to understand any dialog in the film. The real strength of Walk the Line is of course the music. The music of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash is filed with toe-taping backbeats and subtle baritone harmony. The mix is wonderful. Oftentimes Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon sound better than the real couple!
Walk the Line comes in at 135 minutes long. There is a 152 minute extended cut of Walk the Line available on Blu-ray in Europe, but that hasn't been released in the USA yet. The extras are a bit on the light side – not much that really adds to the film but provides some testimonies from friends. Surprisingly, there is an almost complete lack of interviews or original concert footage with Johnny or June. I've seen plenty of footage with them. It just seems like Fox didn't want to spend to the money to get rights. Extras on Walk the Line include:
Feature length audio commentary by director James Mangold (2:15:52)
This is one of the better commentaries I've heard. It is a “must listen” to any film student. Mangold talks about his process and the production of the film. Oftentimes these single person commentaries have huge gaps in audio, but Mangold has a lot to say about Cash, the actors, and the process of making the film. It is fascinating and insightful... particularly regarding Johnny's dark past that fueled his behavior as an adult.
10 deleted scenes with optional commentary by director James Mangold (23 min, HD)
Notable scenes include Jack's funeral, story behind the song “Cry, Cry, Cry”, Johnny breaking what he thought was the only copy of his first recording, some banter with Jerry Lee Lewis, and several others. Some of these scenes pack a lot of impact. I understand the need to keep the pace of the movie going – several scenes are good, but only repeat information that is already communicated in other scenes. I assume some of these scenes have been restored in the unreleased extended cut.
Extended musical sequences (5:30 min, HD)
Extended versions of “Rock and Roll Ruby”, “Jackson” and “Cocaine Blues” - while these are all enjoyable, and Phoenix's vocals are impressive, they would have added another 5 minutes to a movie that Hollywood probably thought was long already.
Folsom, Cash & The Comeback featurette (11:47 min, HD)
Features interviews with Marty Stuart, Steve Pond, Kris Kristofferson, The Statler Brothers, Patrick Carr, Jason Fine, Jay Orr, Folsom Prison personnel and others. Most of the people interviewed are industry insiders or biographers. It is interesting to hear opinions and clarifications, but for the most part this provides a short piece of video to take up space on the disc. The video quality is a mix of HD and uprezed SD.
Celebrating the Man in Black: The Making of Walk the Line (21:38, SD)
A standard definition piece which again interviews industry people and Johnny and June's son with the actors. Hosted by Kris Kristofferson, this again provides a lot of opinions about Johnny's life. It is interesting – particularly when it's brought up that there were no “rock and roll stars” before Cash. There was no example to follow.
Ring of Fire: The Passion of Johnny & June (11:29, HD)
This is another piece to reinforce the “soul mates” theme of Johnny and June's relationship. The “fire and gasoline” nature of their relationship brought some classic songs and horrifying addictions.
Theatrical trailer (1:49, HD)
Provides just the right amount of mystique and music to make people want to know what is behind the sound of the legendary “Man in Black”.
Walk the Line is one of those rare movies where the story and the music blend together flawlessly. They reflect each other in a way that could never be faked by Hollywood. The movie doesn't shy away from the flaws of the Cash and Carter families – occasionally showing the pain and heartaches caused by the consequences of some of their decisions. But not always. We never really know what happens to the children left behind in the wake of Johnny's addictions. But I suppose that would have weighed down a story which was really more about the love between two people no matter the choices made in the past. This is one of those movies that most adults will enjoy and remember for the music alone. But it's sometimes painful to watch too...probably too painful to watch again.