Director/co-writer James Mangold (Identity, Cop Land) guides this two hour and 15 minute biography film with two amazing lead performances. Joaquin Phoenix (Signs, Gladiator) plays Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon (Sweet Home Alabama, Legally Blonde) plays June Carter.
The plot follows their gradual progression into country music stardom as well as a relationship. Phoenix and Witherspoon have great chemistry together and show tremendous acting and musical talent, which makes the legendary songs and performances much more memorable.
The storyline incorporates one main flashback to tell the story of Cash’s family background; setting the tone for his quest to find redemption and personal success in his life. Tragedy and lack of self-confidence hinder Cash’s success. Carter’s Christian, nurturing support helps him find his way as their paths cross throughout the story.
“Love yourself so we can go back to work,” she says to Cash. Cash doesn’t wallow in tragedy but he doesn’t cut loose of it either while his struggles with drug dependency and reconciliation with his father, played by Robert Patrick.
Mangold keeps the camera shots near the stage for a more personal perspective of the characters and adds little personal touches (e.g. Waylon Jennings is played by his son, Shooter) as well. Screenwriters bookend the plot well with a beginning recording scene where Cash finds “the kind of song that truly saves people” and victory over his personal anguish.
The film reveals the main characters’ spirit and motivation beyond what the public saw, centering on their personal lives not just the events of their lives. The satisfying ending demonstrates how strong devotion and self confidence can ultimately succeed, even in the most challenging circumstances. Look for the excellent soundtrack and Oscar nominations early next year. Based on the autobiography books written by Cash. Recommended (*** out of four stars) and PG-13 for language, themes and drug content.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler