Johnny Cash may have walked the line as the Man in Black, but Judge Christopher Kulik plans on sending Fox down the line with a number of colorful metaphors.
"Hello…I'm Johnny Cash!"-Joaquin Phoenix
After two previous DVD releases of the 2005 Oscar-winning film Walk The Line, you would think that Fox had done its job. Not so. Now, they are unleashing an "extended cut" which should be translated as "taking deleted scenes from previous collector's edition and integrating them within the feature" cut. No, I'm not joking about this. However, does that make this another standard triple-dip courtesy of Fox?
Facts of the Case
The film covers roughly half of the life and times of country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator). After suffering the Great Depression sharecropping in Arkansas, Cash joins the Air Force in the early 1950s. While in Germany, he buys a guitar and starts writing songs from his heart. Eventually, he moves to Memphis and marries Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin, In The Land Of Women). Since Cash finds himself going nowhere supporting his family while being a door-to-door salesman, he decides to take a chance and walk into Sun Records. The manager Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts, 3:10 To Yuma) isn't comfortable with Cash singing familiar gospel melodies and asks him to do something new. After some contemplation, Cash begins to sing "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Cry, Cry, Cry," both of which become radio hits.
Soon enough, Cash finds himself hanging out with soon-to-be music legends Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis. He also meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon, Election), a country singer/comedienne who becomes the apple of his eye. However, numerous obstacles come into play which threaten Cash's life and career. With his marriage to Vivian crumbling, he becomes hooked on amphetamines, while repeatedly trying to marry June, his destined soul mate, to no avail.
I first saw Walk The Line shortly after Reese had won the Oscar for Best Actress. I've followed Reese's career over the past 15 years, starting with her auspicious and impressive debut in a little-seen film called The Man In The Moon. Superior turns in Election and Legally Blonde have proven she is one of the finest actors of our generation. Here, she completely embodies June Carter in everything from inner emotional struggles to jukebox-singing sweetness. However, her best moments come when she is rejecting Johnny's marriage proposals in many honest, believable variations. In short, she deserved the award.
Before seeing Walk The Line, I only knew the singer in-name-only, hearing my Navy blue uniforms constantly referred to as "Johnny Cashes." The film succeeds in providing a window into Cash's life, though most of his "rebellious outlaw" nature—for which he is so remembered—came after marrying June. Sure, we see little glimpses of this trait here and there through his pill-popping and guitar-strumming. However, we mostly see a man evolving into a music legend. Here, Joaquin Phoenix manages to be just as potent and effective as Witherspoon. Watching the film again, I kept on asking myself, "is this really the same guy who made his debut in SpaceCamp as a whiny little brat?"
Walk The Line is directed and co-written by James Mangold, who indeed strikes gold here. I never really cared for any of his previous films. Even Girl, Interrupted, which had some fine acting didn't really grab me. However, it's clear that he did an immense amount of research for this project, including several interviews with Mr. Cash before his death in 2003. Working alongside wife Cathy Konrad (Co-Producer) and Gill Dennis (Co-Writer), Mangold gives us a straightforward, searing account of the young Cash going through his tragedies and obstacles with equal depth and an unerring eye. The highlights of the film are surely the musical performances, and Mangold manages to get enough facial expressions from his actors to tell multiple stories and emotions at once.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I loved Walk The Line, it escapes me as to what Fox was thinking in releasing this "Extended Cut." Shortly after the film's Oscar win, it was released twice. One release just had the film along with a Mangold commentary and a collection of deleted scenes. Well, get this: practically all of those same scenes have been integrated back into the feature! Most of these scenes are extensions and/or bit pieces making their inclusion seamless. However, two of the scenes are left behind, and they can be watched in the "More Man In Black" feature on Disc Two.
The video presentation remains the same at 2.35:1 anamorphic, and looks just as perfect as it did before. On the audio side, we have the same DTS and Surround tracks from the previous releases. I recommend DTS just because it brings out the best in Phoenix and Witherspoon's musical performances. The only addition is a 2.0 stereo track, with no explanation other than to give the viewer an additional audio choice.
Mangold makes no indication anywhere in the bonus features about this "Extended Cut," so it's clearly Fox's idea to put out a triple-dip DVD. However, to the studio's credit, they have included more features which were not previously available on the Walk The Line: Two-Disc Collector's Edition. What's a little annoying, though, is that all of them are featurettes which contain practically more-of-the-same interviews recorded back in 2005.
Features that have been brought back include the "Johnny Cash Jukebox," which basically has the full footage of many of the musical performances in the movie. There are eight in all, and include Witherspoon's nostalgic "Jukebox Blues," Phoenix's electric "Got Rhythm," and "That's Alright Mama," sung by Tyler Hilton (doing a solid impersonation of a young Elvis). All of the songs are complemented by optional introductions from the filmmakers and music industry professionals. The 20-minute "Celebrating the Man in Black" is the longest of the featurettes, providing basic insights into the history from idea to feature. Also returning are "Folsom: Cash and the Comeback" and "Ring of Fire: The Passion of Johnny and June," which both discuss what their titles imply.
As for new features, they are all included on Disc Two with the previous ones. And, as with the others, they repeat the same clips from the movie to the point of exhaustion. In "Becoming Cash/Becoming Carter" Phoenix and Witherspoon get to talk about working with music producer T-Bone Burnett in learning to sing and play the parts honestly. We get a glimpse of Memphis and Nashville's music scene in the mid-1950s, with "Sun Records and the Johnny Cash Sound." The last two featurettes focus on Cash's legacy as a musician as well as his relationship with God and religion. The interviews are certainly interesting, with everyone from Kris Kristofferson to Kid Rock to Ozzy Osbourne getting the chance to speak on Cash.
I'm not saying that I didn't gain some extra insight into Cash and Walk The Line by watching all these bonus features. However, like the extended cut of the film itself, I found them to be overkill. And Fox's triple-dip maneuver really plucks my strings. Why didn't they just incorporate all the deleted scenes back into the feature the first time around? It would have been much different, if this cut was made at Mangold's insistence and he did a whole new commentary track or featurette explaining his reasons for doing so. Instead, what we have is a blatant attempt to hamstring customers out of more cash—pun intended.
While Mangold, Phoenix, Witherspoon, and the film are free to go, Fox is sentenced to Folsom Prison on a charge of triple-dipping.
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Scales of Justice
• Feature Commentary with Co-Writer/Director James Mangold
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