When Walk the Line opened, the press wrote reams on how bold it was for Joaquin Phoenix to be providing his own vocals for this story of Johnny Cash. What seemed like a good publicity angle can now be viewed as a liability for the film’s real purpose: to depict the love story between Cash and Reese Witherspoon’s June Carter. Walk the Line didn’t become the award-nominated juggernaut its early supporters predicted, and I think there’s another reason for that: It’s about the world of country music and contains an awful lot of songs. If you’re not into country, seeing Walk the Line in a theater must have been something of a trial.
The DVD is another story. I’m going to suggest something heretical: If you’re in it for the romance, any time you hit a song that doesn’t turn you on, just fast-forward through it. Except for a few occasions — as when Johnny and June duet on ”Jackson” and ”It Ain’t Me, Babe,” which dramatize their deepening connection — the music often gets in the way. The terrific stuff isn’t Phoenix’s wobbly approximation of Cash’s rumbling baritone, but the way the actor plays his tentative yet passionate courtship. Best of all is Witherspoon, who glows with fierce energy and rascally humor.
Director James Mangold’s commentary track doesn’t do much but heap praise on his actors. (You will learn, though, that if you’re friends with Phoenix, you call him ”Joaq” — pronounced ”Wock.”) There are also 10 deleted scenes, and Mangold frequently notes that they wouldn’t have furthered the action — boy, is he right. So just focus on enjoying Cash pitching woo to Carter, and you’ve got yourself a nice evening of emotionally fraught lovey-dove.