Presenting 2005's Music God Biopic of the Year: Walk the Line the story of Johnny Cash's rise to fame and prominence. Mostly.

Actually, there are really two distinct plots running through the film, and one of them works one hell of a lot better than the other. You see, the story of Cash's rise is necessarily the story of his courtship of fellow singer June Carter. And the love story between John and June is famous much beyond the borders of this film: it's entirely fair (if mildly hyperbolic) to call it one of the great romances of the 20th Century. And without a doubt, the movie gets this relationship right. It's one of the very best romantic movies I've seen all year, especially in its closing stages when John resorts to pleading, begging, and finally trickery to win June's hand.

The problem is that there's a biopic to be had here, and while Cash's life was nothing if not interesting, it managed to include every major clichΓ© of the genre: drugs, failed marriage, poverty, childhood trauma, et al ad infinitum. And it bogs the film down and makes it far too long to dwell on all of these biographical details, even though there could be no story without them. It's a dreadful thing.

The film offers plenty of rewards, though. Joaquin Phoenix couldn't be better as Cash - if you didn't know it was him singing, I doubt you'd ever guess - and he generally comes closer to playing the role as a character in a movie (a la Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote) and less as a pitch-perfect but hollow imitation (em>a la Jamie Foxx in Ray). Reese Witherspoon is pretty damn great as June, and mostly deserves the Oscar she will doubtlessly receive in February (update: she did not). And there's the music, of course, and if you don't already know that Cash is a genius, I envy you getting to discover it, whether through this movie or simply buying the man's albums. I could complain that we don't hear enough of the music (mostly just scraps playing over montages), but what's there is beyond reproach. Still, I wish there were a less hackneyed way of exploring it.