Wednesday, March 29, 2006

EIGHT BELOW: A Show Gone to the Dogs

Time: 120 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2
The sled-dogs in action
THOSE who watch this movie — about survival in the Antarctica — would definitely be impressed by the acting. They may also be wondering why the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences had not considered giving special Oscars for its stars.

I am referring to the four-legged cast who play sled-dogs Maya, Max, Shadow, Shorty, Dewey, Buck, Truman and Old Jack in this movie that is purportedly based on real events in 1958. The eight dogs are part of the sled team of Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker), a guide for a research and exploration facility in the Antarctic.

When the movie opens, we see Jerry and his sled-dog team taking a geologist, Dr McLaren (Bruce Greenwood), to a remote mountain region. A snowstorm strikes and we get to see the dogs in action — rescuing the scientist and taking the men back safely to base camp. Soon, however, the exploration team must evacuate their station to avoid a fierce winter — and the dogs are left behind, chained to their post.

Jerry, who has promised himself to return to pick up his canine charges, is unable to do anything as no plane is allowed to return due to bad weather. And while Jerry, McLaren and their friends are safe in Oregon in America, the dogs are left to fend for themselves. And the poignant countdown begins. One week... 50 days... 133 days... 155 days....

Yes, while we see Jerry and his helicopter pilot girlfriend Katie (Moon Bloodgood) doing their utmost to set up a rescue mission for the dogs, the best part of the movie is watching how the canines return to their basic animal nature to survive the harsh winter. They seem to understand that they must work as a team to look for food, take care of the injured and search for shelter.

And it is amazing how director Frank Marshall manages to get so much ‘emotion’ from the dozen dogs who play multiple roles in the film. They are not only adorable, they have incredibly expressive faces and mannerisms. Looking into their eyes, you seem able to know what they are thinking as they tangle with birds and sea lions. And our hearts go out to them throughout the movie.

Eight Below is loosely based on the 1983 Japanese blockbuster Nankyoku Monogatari. In this Disney rendition, we have to overlook certain liberties that Marshall has taken in the filming. For example, we see the dogs in bright daylight although the story is set in the Antarctic winter which is about six months of darkness. Also, since 1993 (the year this movie is set in), sled dogs are banned in the Antarctic — to protect the seals from exposure to diseases. Eight Below is a must for dog lovers and those who like a good adventure.

TIGER & THE SNOW: Not-So-Beautiful Life Now

Time: 113 mins
Rating: * * 1/2
Benigni and camel
THE Tiger And The Snow is Roberto Benigni’s encore to his Oscar-winning comedy Life Is Beautiful of 1998. His Life Is Beautiful (or La Vita e Bella) won three Oscars and grossed US$224 million (RM850m) worldwide. If that is not enough to inspire an ‘encore’, then I don’t know what is.

To be sure, the Italian actor-director had followed up his Oscar triumph with a domestically-released Pinocchio but La Tigre e La Neve (its original name) is his real tryst into the international market. It even has French actor Jean Reno to add muscle to its European box-office stakes.In many ways, La Tigre is a recycled version of La Vita. While the latter dealt with parental love set against the harrowing events of a Nazi concentration camp, La Tigre is more like a patchwork love story set in the recent American-led invasion of Iraq.

Benigni plays Attilio de Giovanni, a wacky professor of poetry who is still very much in love with his ex-wife, Vittoria (Nicolletta Braschi again), after their divorce. This comedy is about Attilio’s attempts to win back Vittoria, a researcher and editor of a book by an Arab poet named Fuad (Reno). It is not clear why their marriage broke up but there are hints that Attilio’s colleague, a sexy teacher named Nancy (Emily Fox), could have been involved.

Things come to a head when Vittoria is badly injured in an explosion during her visit to Fuad in Baghdad which coincided with the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. When Attilio learns about her predicament, he does all he can to get to that war-torn country, including masquerading as a Red Cross doctor.In Iraq, he finds his ex-wife in a coma — and he goes into a frenzy to get the medicine and care that she need to survive.

As usual, Benigni mixes slapstick and pathos in his gags and even throws in animals like camels, canaries and tigers. One gem has Attilio being mistaken for a suicide bomber by American soldiers at a blockade, while another has him caught in a minefield.A subplot about Attilio’s two daughters help to lend realism to the plot although their roles and background could have been better developed.

However, unlike in La Vita, this one looks like a series of sketches which are roughly sewn together to form a narrative.Vittoria’s feelings for Attilio, for example, are not properly explained — and Braschi (Benigni’s real-life wife) seems to have a wall-flower role beside the energetic and unabashed jester that is Benigni. Reno fares better in a straight role as an Arab who is very much affected by the invasion of his country by the Infidels. No, Benigni does not take sides in this ‘conflict’. He merely shows the absurdity of the situation and how it can affect a man’s devotion for his loved one. We only wish that it is more cohesive and less scatter-brained.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

THE NEW WORLD: A Pocahontas Love Story

(biographical adventure)
Time: 153 mins
Rating: * * 1/2
Colin Farrell as Capt John Smith
THE New World is actually a movie about the life and loves of Pocahontas — although that name was never mentioned throughout the movie. Remember Pocahontas, the native American princess who helped the early settlers and later went to London to meet the King?

She was the heroine of the 1995 animated Disney movie immortalised by the song Colours Of The Wind. Now, why would the film-makers ‘neglect’ to mention her name in a movie about the legendary Native American girl who caused a minor sensation in England in the 17th Century?Could it be because writer-director Terrence Malick has ‘altered’ her character so much that she is more fiction than a part of English-American history? Or is it because she is so well-known that the name is irrelevant?

Whatever the reason, this just adds to the confusion that is The New World. Malick, who gave us The Thin Red Line and Days Of Heaven, is a director who treats celluloid as a canvas on which to ‘paint’ his movie. And we can see this ‘poetry in motion’ in the opening of the movie where the idyllic coast of Virginia is shattered by the blast of a ship’s cannon.

The English settlers, led by Capt Newport (Christopher Plummer) have arrived — and things will never be the same again for the Algonquian Indians and their chief, Powhatan (August Schellenberg). Before returning to England, Newport sends the trouble-maker John Smith (Colin Farrell) into the woods to look for fresh supplies. He is captured by the natives and is ‘saved’ from death by 12-year-old Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher) who gradually falls in love with him.

However, when Smith returns to the fortress in Jamestown, tensions between the Englishmen and the natives bring an end to their relationship. Pocahontas is regarded as a traitor by her tribe and is exiled by her father. When Smith is sent off on another mission, tobacco planter John Rolfe (Christian Bale) enters Pocahontas’ life and he falls in love with her. They marry, have a son and he takes her to England...

But the focus of The New World is not just on Pocahontas. Malick places nature in the foreground, highlighting its scenery and sounds. However, this mix of visual poetry is spoilt by redundant monologues by Smith, Pocahontas and Rolfe. Not only are these voice-overs badly written, they intrude into the narrative and interrupt the flow of the story. Another problem is the role of newcomer Kilcher as Pocahontas. She looks a lot more mature than her 14 years but few among the viewers can relate to her. This may be because she has few speaking parts and little screen chemistry with Farrell and Bale.

The supporting cast include veteran Native American actor Wes Studi (as a Powhatan warrior) and Irene Bedard as Pocahontas’ mother. Interestingly, Bedard was the speaking voice of Disney’s Pocahontas — and this may be Malick’s tribute to the movie. An arty but flawed effort.

YOURS, MINE & OURS: Predictable, chaotic comedy

(Comedy) Time: 88 mins
Rating: * *
The brood of Dennis Quaid
The remake of Yours, Mine & Ours is obviously inspired by the success of Steve Martin’s Cheaper By The Dozen which grossed over US$138 million. Unlike The Shaggy Dog (reviewed below), it has none of its ‘inventive comedy’ but relies solely on domestic chaos to get the laughs.

The story has the widowed Coast Guard admiral Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid) getting hitched with his high school sweetheart Helen North (Rene Russo) and combining their households into a mega-family. He has eight kids and she has 10, making the Brady Bunch seem like a well-planned family.

His children are brought up in strict military fashion while her kids are allowed ‘freedom of expression’. Unhappy with their lot, the kids rebel — and then (predictably) realise that they are better off as a family. And you can safely tell what would happen next throughout the movie.

This film also falls short as a tender romantic comedy that centres around a story about a lighthouse keeper. In the supporting cast, Linda Hunt is wasted as the hip housekeeper.

SHAGGY DOG: Updated family treat

Time: 98 mins
Rating: * * 1/2
Tim Allen in his 'doggone stance'
IT is so much easier to recycle a winning formula than to create something new — and so we are going to see a number of remakes this year. Apart from The Shaggy Dog and Yours, Mine and Ours, we will be seeing the remake of Superman, When A Stranger Calls, Poseidon Adventure and TV’s Miami Vice. This is in addition to The Pink Panther released in Malaysia last month.

The Shaggy Dog is a rehashed version of the 1959 Disney movie starring Fred MacMurray. Tim Allen plays assistant district attorney Dave Douglas who is prosecuting a case involving a teacher who set fire to a lab that uses animals in tests. When Dave is bitten by a 300-year -old dog from Tibet, he transmutates and turns into a shaggy dog but retains his own mind.

The fun starts when he chases cats, fetches stuff and tries to convince his daughter Carly (Zena Grey) and son who he really is. One touching scene has his wife Rebecca (Kristin Davis of Sex And The City) waiting forlornly for him at a restaurant on their wedding anniversary while he appears outside the window, wagging his tail and holding a bouquet of flowers in his teeth. Of course, this transformation helps to make Dave a better father and husband at the end.

Allen is adept at physical comedy and he is convincing enough to make us fall for the canine in him. The ending, which has the menagerie of lab animals turning up to ‘wreak vengeance’ on their tormentor Dr Kozak (Robert Downey Jr) is pure Disney hokum.

To be sure, this Shaggy Dog, directed by Brian Robbins, is better than its original. In the lame 1959 movie, it was MacMurray’s son who turned into a dog. At least this one is inventive enough to update the story and factor in a number of feel-good subplots about being there for the loved ones.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Dear Friends and Visitors,

Today (March 16) is my last day as Production Editor with The Malay Mail. I shall be turning 55 tomorrow and mandatorily retiring from the New Straits Times Sdn Bhd for which I have worked for 31 years.

It is sad for me to leave my friends and colleagues at The Malay Mail whom I regard as a part of my extended family -- and the office as my second home.

My At The Movies Column will be discontinued at the end of next month when the new Malay Mail hit the streets in May. However, I intend to continue to post Movie Reviews on this blog and I would dearly like your views, comments and support.

I will keep you guys posted on what's happening in this blog as I am still not sure what will happen in the next few months. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all my faithful readers who have been following the column and taking part in the Malay Mail Top 10 Movies Poll each year.
Please continue to click on to this blog when you are free. Thank you and cheers!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

V FOR VENDETTA: Provocative Effort by Wachowskis

(futuristic thriller)
Time: 130 mins
Rating: * * 1/2
Natalie Portman & Hugo Weaving
FROM the Brothers Wachowski, we get another ‘out-of- this-world’ fantasy about an alternate, Orwellian England. Unlike The Matrix trilogy, however, this one is rather provocative as its hero is a ‘home-grown’ terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask who wants to blow up Parliament and the Prime Minister’s residence.

If this sounds familiar, it is because V For Vendetta is based on the comic book by writer Alan Moore and artist David Lloyd which was originally serialised in the British magazine Warrior. It was later republished and completed in DC Comics in 1988/89. The story, set in a ‘futuristic’ fascist England, is in reaction to the policies of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

For the movie, however, scripters Andy and Larry Wachowski have set the period as 2020 and installed their Matrix protege James McTeigue as director. When the movie opens, America has collapsed under the strain of terror, plague and civil war — and England is ruled by dictator Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Art, books and all forms of entertainment are banned and the nation is kept in a state of crisis and under strict curfew.

We follow the exploits of Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) who accidentally becomes involved with a rebel known only as V (Hugo Weaving in the mask) when he rescues her from two menacing government lackeys. V has a flair for the theatrical and he introduces himself to London on Guy Fawkes Day (Nov 5) with a symbolic bombing and then hijacks a TV station to announce his ‘revolution’. When Evey is taken into V’s abode, she becomes our proxy to V’s designs, and we begin to sympathise with her just as she is being seduced by V’s ideology. The ‘crunch’ comes when she is ‘captured’, shaven bald, and ‘imprisoned’.

This transformation is supposed to turn Evey into V’s ally but the Wachowskis seem to take the easy way out with the ‘conversion’ of the Londoners. Instead of having V indoctrinating the people to revolt (as in the comic book), they have him sending out his mask and costumes to the people!However, the subplots about the hunt for the terrorist by Sutler’s minions help to put the totalitarian state into perspective. Stephen Fry and Stephen Rea give sterling performances as investigators who unveil V’s background.

Portman carries herself well too, getting our sympathy as the vulnerable Evey, while Weaving has a hard time displaying emotions from behind the mask (Still, he manages to get the message across). This movie, which was scheduled for release last November, was ‘hijacked’ by events when London was hit by terrorist bombs in July last year.

TRISTAN & ISOLDE: A Heart-rending Love Story

(romantic adventure)
Time: 125 mins
Rating: * * *
Sophia Myles and James Franco
THE legendary love story of Tristan and Isolde has all the magical and tragic elements of Lancelot and Guinevere — and more. Yet it was not deemed to be as marketable as the Arthurian legend by Hollywood’s film-makers.

This movie was reportedly ‘dumped’ by 20th Century Fox into the cinemas at this ‘slow’ time of the year without much advertising support — after languishing on the shelf for more than a year. In fact film-maker Ridley Scott had been trying to get this movie off the ground for 25 years and although he did not direct it (the task went to Kevin Reynolds), he served as executive producer on the project. Fans of Scott’s works, like Kingdom Of Heaven, may find some of Scott’s trademarks in this version of Tristan & Isolde.

The movie is set in the British Isles in the 7th Century after the fall of the Roman Empire. Ireland’s King Donnchadh (David Patrick O’Hara) of the Celts has conquered many of the British tribes who have been too busy squabbling among themselves to put up any resistance. Lord Marke (Rufus Sewell) tries to unite the British clans when Donnchadh’s men attack — and kill young Tristan’s parents. Marke adopts the boy and raises him as his own son.

When the Irish raiders next attack their village, Tristan (James Franco) successfully sets a trap for them — but he is wounded by a poisoned weapon and falls into a coma. Thinking that he is dead, the Brits put Tristan’s body on a boat for the customary ‘sea burial’. The boat finds its way to Ireland where Tristan is found by Isolde (Sophia Myles), the beautiful daughter of Donnchadh.

She nurses him back to health — and yes, they fall in love in an idyllic cave near the beach. To continue to stay alive, Tristan returns to Britain — and that’s when a series of events conspire to turn their love story into a tragedy. Donnchadh offers Isolde as a prize bride to the British tribes in a tournament, and Tristan, not knowing who Isolde really is, wins the prize for Marke, who is now king of Britain. The marriage of Isolde and Marke is actually a scheme by Donnchadh to gain more power — and Tristan and Isolde have to contend with secret meetings and stolen kisses.

This is a poignant tale about true love and duty to the king — and we can’t help feeling that singer Enya’s ballads would have helped to add colour to it. There isn’t any memorable performance here but Myles gives dignity and radiance to Isolde, a victim of mistaken intentions. Franco appears awkward at first but he warms up to the role gradually to generate the requisite screen chemistry with Myles. Sewell is effective as the sensible King Marke, a role similar to King Arthur’s. Tristan & Isolde has enough sparks to please the romantics and those who love a good cry.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

CASANOVA: From Brokeback To Venice

(Romantic comedy)
Time: 110 mins
Rating: * * *
Lena Olin (left) and Heath Ledger (right)
THE name is synonymous with charm, suaveness, seduction — and every quality a man needs to get a woman into bed. We have been told that one does not need to be filthy rich or drop-dead handsome to be a Casanova, but with Hollywood’s current heart-throb Heath Ledger in the title role, we can be sure of some farcical intrigues and swashbuckling romps.

Lasse Hallstrom’s Casanova, scripted by Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi, is set in Venice, circa 1753, in the era of the Inquisition when the church tries to clamp down on fornicators, feminists and philosophers. It is purportedly based on real events in the life and exploits of Giacomo Casanova but we have to take a pinch of salt with that claim.

When the movie opens, we find our randy hero facing deportation from Venice for all of the above mentioned sins. To avoid being sent away, Casanova is advised to take a respectable wife — and he sets his eyes on the famed virgin Victoria (Natalie Dormer). However, as soon as Casanova arranges a marriage deal with Victoria’s father, Donato (Stephen Greif), he is attracted to Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller), a firebrand feminist and writer who despises Casanova and all that he stands for.

Francesca has a brother, Giovanni (Charles Cox), who is in love with Victoria and when Giovanni challenges Casanova to a duel, Francesca (in disguise) takes her brother’s place and proves her mettle. This only makes our hero all the more enamoured of Francesca. And when Casanova learns that her widowed mother (Lena Olin) has promised Francesca in marriage to the obese lard trader Paprizzio (Oliver Platt), he masquerades as Fat Papi to court her. Meanwhile, the Vatican has sent its inquisitor, Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons), to Venice to nab the infamous Casanova for his crimes against the church!

To get into the mood of the movie, we have to understand that Casanova is known more to the Venetians by reputation than by person. This explains how he can get away with posing as Paprizzio — and the series of mistaken identities and costume balls.

Yes, Hallstrom has injected lots of fun, wit and humour into the proceedings. What is missing, though, are the sex romps and bawdiness that we may expect from this R-rated film. And coming right on the heels of Brokeback Mountain, Ledger gives his role a vibrant energy that is totally different from the gay cowboy he played earlier. And what’s more, he displays the same screen chemistry with the delectable Miller as he did with Jake Gyllenhaal. Others like Platt and Irons lend strong support almost effortlessly.

MILLIONS: Great Family Treat

(family adventure)
Time: 97 mins
Rating: * * *
Alex Etel and Lewis McGibbon
IMAGINE a Nike bag stuffed with loads of cash falling on to your lap from the sky. What would you do with it? This is what happens to seven-year-old Damian Cunningham (Alex Etel) at his cardboard ‘playhouse’ near the railway tracks in the British countryside one day.

Most kids his age would go on a spending spree but not Damian. He sees this ‘manna from heaven’ as a sign to do good. And he starts distributing the money — more than 265,000 pounds sterling — to the poor, much to the chagrin of his older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) who has more practical uses for the newfound wealth.

Damian, however, is not your regular kid. Like the boy in Sixth Sense, he also sees ‘dead people’ — mostly saints and martyrs like St Peter, St Francis of Assisi and even a chain-smoking St Clare. Damian’s interest in saints has a purpose. He would ask each of these ‘visions’ if they have seen his late mother in their travels through Heaven. None of them has.

Directed by Danny Boyle of Trainspotting fame, Millions may sound like a fantasy kiddie adventure but it is also rooted in reality. There is a subtle moral lesson on greed vs altruism and acceptance vs denial.

Damian, nine-year-old Anthony and their father Ronnie (James Nesbitt) have been uprooted from their old flat to start afresh in a new housing estate in the suburbs outside Liverpool. Anthony is rather stoic about the death of their mother and he even uses it to gain sympathy from strangers. Damian, however, is confused why God would take his mother away so soon — but he figures that she must be on her way to becoming a saint. And that is why he must help out by doing charity work.

On the reality side, Britain is finally converting its economy from sterling to the Euro and the boys face the dilemma of seeing their hoard becoming worthless very soon. Director Boyle works up a bit of fun showing the ploys and schemes the brothers cook up to save their money. There is also a pinch of suspense when a bad guy (Christopher Fulford) turns up to claim the missing bag of loot from a train robbery.

For fans of British film-maker Boyle, Millions must be a surprise family treat from a director who is known for strong R-rated stuff like Shallow Grave (about drugs and money), Trainspotting (about drugs and sex) and 28 Days Later (which deals in gore and zombies). But he handles this genre with the same energy and fast pace that keep us riveted to the screen.

Of course, the two young leads, newcomer Etel and McGibbon, are a godsend. They are naturally cute and appealing — and most of all they come on like real children, not just good-looking actors. Etel handles his role with such innocence that we can’t help but feel for him.Nesbitt does a fine job as the caring, bewildered father, while Daisy Donovan provides a touch of romance as a charity worker who falls for Ronnie.Make a date with Millions during this coming school holidays.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

CAPOTE: Made-for-Oscars Movie

Time: 115 mins
Rating: * * *
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener
THERE is no doubt that this movie is made with the Oscars in mind. The superb acting, the detailed look and feel all add up to Oscar-nomination material. However, this biographical drama of American writer Truman Capote does not touch our heart-strings the way Walk The Line (reviewed below) does.

It is a well-made, meticulously researched film but its emotional level does not quite match the dramatic level of the story. We get great insights into the title character and his struggle to complete his bestseller, In Cold Blood, but not many people in the audience can relate to Capote or even like him. This movie is about the price the author has to pay for getting too deeply involved in his subject matter while writing his book.

The story opens in 1959 with the brutal murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. When Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) reads the news, he decides to write a magazine article about the impact of the murder on the small Midwest town. Heading for Holcomb with his good friend Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), Capote befriends lead investigator Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) and his star-struck wife (Amy Ryan) and charms them into giving him inside information on the case. Capote gets to view the coffins of the victims and even manages to interview the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) in their prison cells.

The personal interviews, in exchange for providing them a lawyer, soon develop into a deep bond between Capote and Smith. Capote, the famous writer of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, is an ‘out-of-the-closet’ gay and he has a live-in lover in Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). His ‘toil’ on the book seems to be taking a toll his health as he wrestles with a dilemma: He cares for Perry Smith and yet he has to ‘exploit’ and ‘betray’ him to complete his book. And in the time he takes to finish In Cold Blood in 1967, his childhood friend Harper Lee has published her famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

This film, directed by Bennett Miller (from a screenplay by Dan Futterman, based on Gerald Clarke’s book Capote), is about how an author works on a story — and how the story ‘consumes’ him. Seymour Hoffman does a terrific job of capturing Capote’s speech and mannerisms. His Capote is a small man with a huge ego and is not a likeable person. Yet his wit attracts the attention of everyone wherever he goes.Ms Keener is also memorable as Capote’s friend and confidante who helps us to understand him better. Mainly for fans of heavy drama.

WALK THE LINE: Carter-Cash Love Story

Time: 138 mins
Rating: * * * *
Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix
BIOGRAPHICAL movies about popular singers and other showbiz celebs can be rather predictable. Take the 2004 Oscar contender Ray, for example. First, we have the struggle towards stardom, the success and the love affairs, and the struggle with booze and drugs.

Walk The Line, the biopic of Country & Western singer Johnny Cash, has all these — and more. It keeps our attention glued to the screen, our feet tapping to the music, and our hearts crying out for the protagonist and his quest for the one woman he has come to love. I don’t know about you, but in my book, this is top class entertainment.

The Johnny R. Cash story opens in Dyess, Arkansas, in the US in 1944, where 12-year-old Johnny and his parents are devastated by the death of his older brother Jack (Lucas Till). Next, we skip to Landsberg, Germany, in 1952 where Cash (now played by Joaquin Phoenix) pens the famous Folsom Prison Blues. Then, while married to Vivian (Ginniffer Goodwin) in Memphis in 1955, Cash starts a band specialising in gospel songs. That audition scene, with the legendary Sam Philips (Dallas Roberts) of Sun Records, is pivotal in defining Cash’s music. Sam says his gospel renditions sound copy- cat and suggests that he sing something of his own. And that’s when Folsom Prison Blues brought Cash his first recording contract.

Road shows follow and Cash finds himself in the company of Jerry Lee Lewis and his childhood idol June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). In US showbiz, road shows often come with booze and drugs — and these are the two obstacles in Cash’s quest for success and in his love affair with June. Ironically, they also help him write that title hit song, Walk The Line.

Indeed, one of the most fascinating things about this movie is how director James Mangold provides the background story to some of Cash’s more famous hits. Mangold delves deep into Cash’s stormy relationship with his father — and his protracted wooing of June who is put off by Cash’s drink and drugs problem. And it is this love story — of a flawed human being trying to win the hand of his ‘soul-mate’ — that gives life and emotion to the movie.

Phoenix does a good impersonation of Cash, even though he is physically different from the legendary ‘Man in Black’. He has perfected his voice, speaking and singing like Cash himself.However, the best performance (and top Oscar contender) comes from Witherspoon who plays June Carter like the smart, warm and caring personality that she really was.

Understandably, Mangold leaves out June’s major dramas, like her two failed marriages (which are mentioned off-screen) to concentrate on her relationship with Cash. This only makes us yearn for a biopic on June’s life.It is rather risky to have the actors sing those famous hits but the gamble paid off reasonably. For comparison, Cash’s and Carter’s real voices come with the final credits.