Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA/Germany, 2005. Fox 2000 Pictures, Tree Line Film, Konrad Pictures, Catfish Productions, Major Studio Partners, Mars Media Beteiligungs. Screenplay by Gill Dennis, James Mangold, based on the books Man In Black by Johnny Cash, and Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash and Patrick Carr. Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. Produced by James Keach, Cathy Konrad. Music by T Bone Burnett. Production Design by David J. Bomba. Costume Design by Arianne Phillips. Film Editing by Michael McCusker. Academy Awards 2005. Golden Globe Awards 2005. New York Film Critics Awards 2005. Toronto International Film Festival 2005.
Every standard cliche from musical biopics of the past has been mined generously for this uninspiring but entertaining biography of The Man In Black, Johnny Cash. Played with impressive monotony by Joaquin Phoenix, Cash goes from poor, farming roots in the south (Ray), through to a career in the Navy (any Elvis movie), makes it big with his songs and then succumbs to drug and alcohol addiction (Lady Sings The Blues) when the work overwhelms his energy (Coal Miner’s Daughter). Along the way he meets up with June Carter, played with fiery intensity by a wonderful Reese Witherspoon, and the two of them enjoy years of repressed flirting before they finally give in to their mutual feelings. James Mangold directs the picture with energy and strength, letting us indulge in some wonderful musical numbers (the two leads give great performances with their own voices), but characters like Cash’s first wife (Ginnifer Goodwin) are so one-dimensional that it barely feels more challenging than an average television movie of the week. Thankfully, Witherspoon is such a piston that she nearly saves the operation; it is her best work yet, and the mark of an already talented actress completely outdoing herself. Unfortunately, the film relies mostly on Phoenix, and while he is fully believable, he’s too colourless to hang a whole big movie on.