Although this blog published an early review, I hadn’t seen the highly-acclaimed Walk the Line until just last night, when the swift couriers of the USPS delivered the Netflix to my door. Comparisons to last year’s Ray are inevitable and, in my humble opinion, unfavorable. Both feature Southern boys rising to stardom in the music industry, the loss of a brother that haunts them and their music and drug addiction being conquered by a ridiculously short montage. Ray, of which I was no huge fan, is the more entertaining biopic.

Continue reading about Walk the Line DVD (minor plot details)…As director/co-writer James Mangold says in the commentary on some early deleted scenes, the story doesn’t kick in for the audience until Johnny Cash gets to Texarkana. I would amend that to say the story doesn’t kick in until Cash meets June Carter, the perpetual sparkplug played with sparkplugginess by a bottle brunette Reece Witherspoon. The two essential points of drama in the story are whether Cash will reconcile with his father (Robert Patrick, always a Terminator), who wishes Cash had died instead of his brother; and the love-hate relationship between Cash and Carter, both of whom are married to other people through most of the movie. The reconciliation with the father is subtle and perfect. The final reconcilliation between Carter and Cash is far more awkward.

In Ray, Ray Charles is a proactive character, overcoming the limitations of his blindness by sheer will, winning the love of his life through charm, demanding to own his own master recordings and defeating racists at every turn. The writing, directing and acting is sometimes obvious, but the movie clearly has a desire to entertain. Walk the Line would rather educate. Thus Cash gets a recording contract out of desperation, comes up with his trademark black uniform by accident, poses as a man who has done hard time out of self-pity, and has to be saved by June Carter at every turn. Not exactly someone to root for.

If anything, we’re rooting for June Carter, perhaps because Reece Witherspoon is so convincing (who knew she had the pipes). Carter loves Cash in spite of herself, and does a good job resisting him. The movie takes pains to remind us that it is she who wrote “Ring of Fire”. When Cash finally traps her with a marriage proposal in a public place, it seems like an act of manipulation and even cruelty. I appreciate trying to tell a different kind of love story, but the scene feels wrong and left me unsatisfied.

As far as DVDs go, fans of the movie should steer towards the 2-disc set (right)*. The “Widescreen Edition” DVD, the one I watched, has what I consider the bare minimum in extras: director commentary, deleted scenes (also with commentary) and the trailer. James Mangold is well spoken and his commentaries are informative. The picture is compressed well, with only a distracting layer skip point (when Cash is on the hammock). Some of the color timing seemed a bit yellow at times, but I assume that is how the theatrical prints were. The sound mix is highly dynamic; I had to turn it down during the big musical numbers so as not to disturb my neighbors, but turn it way up to hear the dialogue.

Many people were surprised Walk the Line wasn’t nominated over Capote. Though I also found Capote dull, I begrugingly acknowledge it is the better movie. Both movies have manipulative and self-destructive main characters based on actual, historical people. Only Capote has the courage to make that main character an anti-hero.

* Contains:
– 3 extended music sequences featuring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon: “Rock and Roll Baby,” “Jackson” and “Cocaine Blues”
– “Celebrating the Man in Black: The Making of Walk the Line,” featuring interviews with Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crowe, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Kid Rock and more
– Featurette “Folsom, Cash and the Comeback”
– Featurette “Ring of Fire: The Passion of Johnny and June”