Walk the Line

The Johnny Cash biopic starts with sentimental scenes of the singer as a young boy with his sweet, kind, diligent, protective and fun older brother. You can tell from the sepia indoors, picturesque outdoors, and thoughtful pauses that young Mr. Virtuous is not long for this movie. The fact that the doomed angel child is a cliche from Victorian literature (Dickens, Alcott, et all) doesn’t make it easier to take.
The movie is filled with such paint-by-numbers sequences. The young Johnny Cash stumbles on Sam Phillips’ storefront recording studio, listens at the back door, and has the door closed in his face. You can tell when Cash is overdosing because the camera goes out of focus. There is a strained moment when Cash’s matronly first wife meets his elegant future wife at a music awards night, and hisses at her to stay away from the children.
Cash’s father (“you’re good for nothing”) and first wife (“I don’t want you mentioning your band or tour, ever”), never have a kind or supportive word to say about anything. Clearly this chronic rejection drives Cash’s self-destruction, as anyone who reads airport bookstore self-help books would know.
The two lead actors do a good job, but the unimaginative or condescending literalness of the movie is a good reminder of what I can’t stand about Hollywood style. It’s not hatred of emotion, or even melodrama. I loved Farewell My Concubine, which featured a damaged artist, unrequited love, drug addiction fueled by rejection, beautiful photography, and plenty of tragedy per foot of celluloid. The bits that the viewer needs to infer make all the difference.

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