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Comparisons aplenty have been made between Walk the Line and last year's award winning Ray. In terms of story and structure, both are much alike, simply because of the nature of these musician's lives. Stardom begins, dreams are made, wallets expand, before the strain and the inevitable fall from grace follows. Identical yes, but what keeps the two distinguishable from one another is the most vital element of all: the music. And, for J.R. Cash, his music served as the voice of the common man. His acute ability to touch even the darkest and most troubled of people as his drive, honesty and defiant nature swept through his songs, and helped shape the changing face of country.

Walk the Line
Mangold’s biopic starts out in 1940s Arkansas where young J.R Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) plays with his brother and builds his interest in music. But one day when J.R is off fishing, Jack dies in a tragic table saw accident. The guilt is relentless, made worse when his father (Robert Patrick) blames J.R for Jack‘s death. “God has taken the wrong son“, he tells him. Years later, after a stint in the air force, Cash’s fortunes change at the famous Sun Records in Memphis, where he joins Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and others in changing the face of rock and country music with every key they strike. However, pressure begins to show and he struggles to juggle fame and his marriage, leading to drugs, drink and divorce. But it’s his infatuation with country music sensation June Carter (Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon) that keeps him going. Her composed yet purposeful nature quickly stamps its authority on him, but sparks begin to fly, and their obvious rapport is evident to everyone, never more so than when they tour and perform together.  

Indeed, it's those renowned performances that are recreated with passion by Mangold ( Cop Land, Identity). Exquisitely cut and shot up close and personal, Mangold successfully captures the conviction and power that the Man in Black exuded on stage, and transports us front row centre so we can soak up the music and roar of the crowds. His handling of the drama and romance are also spot on, immersing us in the rocky romance that shaped the first couple of country. And his decision to have his leads sing themselves, rather than dub the original artists over the top a la Ray pays off big time. But while they sound very much like their characters, both have their own distinctive vocals and give the illusion that Cash and Carter are on stage performing before your eyes.

Walk the Line
With two of the year's most dazzling performances, Phoenix and Witherspoon shoot themselves into the big time here, with roles that seem tailored made for both. The chemistry between them is sensational, giving the movie its heartbeat, and flawlessly recreate Cash and Carter's love. It's the kind of love that conquers all, making you believe that these two cannot be without one another.

Separately meanwhile, both are full value for their notices from Mr. Oscar. Phoenix brilliantly combines his usual calm and solemn everyday man persona with the dark, rebellious edge of Cash to great effect, never more so than on stage performing. Witherspoon meanwhile delivers the female performance of the year, fully deserving her Best Actress win back in February. She becomes June Carter before your very eyes, encompassing not only the pathos and grace of Carter on stage, but also the resourcefulness and tenderness she exuded off it as a mother and a friend.

If holes are to be picked they stem mainly from the fact that the film heavily resembles Ray and any other biopic's of this nature. This, coupled with the fact that the music on display here probably isn't to everyone's taste, may lead to people shying clear of this one. Having said that, the film's performance at the world box office seems to contradict this. There are problems with the pacing too, which slows to crawl midway through the film as Cash goes through his transitional period, and Mangold's over indulgence on the love story may prove a little too sugary for some.  

Walk the Line
Video
Presented in a 2.40:1 anamporphic transfer (well, the box says 2.39:1, but it's close enough), Fox have acquitted themselves brilliantly in the video department, giving the film a near perfect transfer. As you would expect from a new release, everything is of the highest quality, and the picture is as clear and crisp as you would expect. Of course, with this being a drama, there is not a lot to look, but what is on screen looks pristine, perfectly capturing the rich countryside of Arkansas as well as the various concert halls and clubs used as Cash and Carter perform. Colours are bold and bright, with greens and blues the most dominant of the palette. Colour bleaching is at a minimum, with very little of the saturated blotching that some transfers can unfortunately be lumbered with. On the downside, there is some edge enhancement noticeable, and the picture at certain points looks slightly grainy and a little soft.

Audio
As you would expect from a film where music is the most predominant audio throughout, Fox have pulled out all the stops to produce a superb transfer for the film.  The DTS option sounds amazing, bringing the songs and lyrics of all the artists to life perfectly, giving all five channels an extensive workout. The best example of the audio at its best is the Folsom Prison recording, which even watched on its own, encompasses everything people love about Johnny Cash. The crowd sings along, banging chairs and stomping there feet as Cash and his Cash's backing band energetically perform Folsom Prison Blues to the screaming masses. The audio also showcases Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon's excellent singing voices, both of which help bring the famous songs to life in a superb way, performing with gusto and enthusiasm.

Walk the Line
Extras
While the majority of the features are to be found on the two disc edition, there's plenty of decent activity on this version.

The best feature is the excellent commentary from director and co-writer James Mangold. It’s obvious right from the get go just how much Mangold loves and worships Cash as he reads from the script the meticulous details of the film’s opening scene, which perfectly sets up the rest of the film. Throughout the two hours of the film, Mangold is a delight, combining his knowledge not just of Cash but of June Carter and the other great artists of Cash’s early career, and the influences all of them left behind, with his praise and admiration for his two leading actors, as well as throwing in the usual mix of on-set stories and anecdotes. Indeed, he starts off the commentary warning us that he hasn’t one bad thing to say about Phoenix and Witherspoon, and that the film would never have worked without their commitment and love of the project.  Now it may all sound a little preachy, and sure at points it can be, but when someone is so detailed and passionate about something they love, you can’t help but listen and be enthralled.

Also included here are ten deleted scenes, themselves with optional commentary from Mangold. Running at about twenty five minutes, the ten main scenes presented here are a decent set of scenes, but as with most deleted scenes, you can see why they were cut. What they do add here however is a few further insights into Johnny’s marriage to Vivian, who in one scene tells him that she will never divorce him, and show more interaction between Cash and record producer Sam Phillips as they prepare for the release of his first record. All the scenes are defiantly worth a view if you’re an ardent fan of the film, but for the average DVD watcher, I doubt there will be much interest.

Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer and a TV spot for the film’s soundtrack

Walk the Line
Overall
Despite being compared to other musical biopics, Walk the Line ranks as one of the best to date. What lifts it above the norm is the magnificent pairing of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, who give two of the best performances of the year. Excellently directed by James Mangold, whose obvious love for Johnny Cash is evident throughout, and superbly captures both the music sequences and the more dramatic and romantic elements beautifully. Technically, the DVD is excellent, with fantastic care and time taken on both the video and audio transfers. And while the extras here are slim, the alternative two-disc edition is available for those ardent Johnny Cash fans out there.


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