Judge Matt Dicker once let someone off for shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die.
It's time for her side of the story.
Though Jewel gives a spirited performance as the great June Carter Cash, one can't help but compare Ring of Fire to Walk the Line, and this one comes out the far lesser film.
Facts of the Case
Both as a child (Mary Stewart Sullivan) and a teenager (Leah Peasall), June Carter is a shy and somewhat reluctant performer who discovers her love for the stage while singing alone without her family, the famed Carter Family, for the first time. The adult June (Jewel, Ride the Devil), one of the biggest names in country music, meets fellow star Johnny Cash (Matt Ross, American Horror Story), and though they are both married to other people, their romance blossoms and they eventually marry. Ring of Fire follows Johnny and June's long and tumultuous relationship, focusing on the tribulations created by Johnny's addiction to painkillers and June's efforts to keep her family together.
Just eight years ago, we were told the story of Johnny and June Carter Cash in Walk the Line, a film that did not shy away from portraying the difficulties June faced in living with her husband. Yet that film was clearly told from Johnny's perspective, while Ring of Fire was implicitly marketed as a rebuttal to the earlier film, this time telling the story from June's point of view.
It is a standard trope of biopics to begin by showing scenes from the subject's childhood, usually intended to illustrate a theme that will come to define the subject's adult life. These scenes in Ring of Fire show a young June falling in love with performing but, though nice enough moments, they are almost entirely divorced from the rest of the film. Perhaps the intent was to show that June sacrificed so much of her happiness as a performer in order to take care of Johnny. If this is the case, the filmmakers failed to make the point.
After the obligatory scenes in which the couple's romance blossoms, Johnny's addictions manifest themselves to June, and the rest of the film focuses on June pushing Johnny to take care of himself while protecting her son from his violent behavior. Though it was revealed in their son's book that June also struggled with drug addiction, none of this is mentioned in the film. Instead, June is portrayed as an almost saintly figure, sacrificing everything to take care of Johnny. Ring of Fire was clearly made with the agenda of portraying a dedicated woman sacrificing everything to stand by her man. However, by whitewashing their relationship, the film is robbed of a compelling narrative, resulting in what this clearly turns out to be…a Lifetime original movie.
While Walk the Line ended shortly after Johnny's famed Folsom Prison concert, Ring of Fire takes the cradle-to-grave approach, wrapping up in June's middle years before a brief denouement depicts the final days of her life. These years were clearly full of dramatic material, as Johnny continuously relapsed, but June's experiences aren't terribly compelling to watch. As she waits to see her husband released from rehab, I kept thinking I would rather be watching this story from Johnny's point of view. It may be time for June's take on the story, but Johnny's was far more cinematic.
In the years since Walk the Line was released, the film has become best remembered for the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, both tremendous efforts. Jewel and Ross each had big shoes to fill, and do so with varying degrees of success. Unsurprisingly, Jewel is at her best during scenes in which June is performing, as she convincingly mimics both June's voice and stage persona. Her acting is respectable in the film's more dramatic scenes, and despite her limited credits she obviously has a natural talent. Ross is less successful as Cash; his voice isn't quite right, and his swagger is nearly absent. While Joaquin Phoenix became The Man in Black, Ross seems more like one of the Cash imitators in the musical Million Dollar Quartet, affecting Cash's mannerisms without demonstrating any deeper command of his psyche. The performance might have been more convincing had we not seen Phoenix own the role so completely.
Regardless of what Ring of Fire may have going for it, Lionsgate's DVD is almost unwatchable. Presented in standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen which more than adequately translates its made-for-TV origins, there is a significant problem with the Dolby 5.1 Surround track. Most of the film plays as it should, but all percussive sounds (such as the clack of high heels or hand clapping) cause a metallic buzzing that's incredibly distracting. A film full of scenes in which audiences clap for performers is the worst candidate for such a problem. The only bonus feature is a Biography channel documentary on the life of Johnny Cash.
Lifetime makes some of the trashiest and altogether terrible television movies, and by comparison Ring of Fire is a masterpiece. The premise was that it told a familiar story from a new vantage point, but since it fails to do so, one wonders why the it needed to be made to begin with. Still, the music is wonderful, and there are far worse ways to spend 90 minutes than listening to some of the finest songs in the country music canon.
Guilty of making time keep draggin' on.
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