Oh, the dreaded extended cut.
Going into this, I wasn't sure what it would be like seeing Walk the Line again. I loved it when I caught the flick during its theatrical run, but I haven't seen it since. Would I even notice the extension? Would the bloat be evident? An even worse fear was that I might not be able to take the film seriously after seeing it so effectively eviscerated by Jake Kasdan in Walk Hard - The Dewey Cox Story. It could be like that friend everyone has who got pantsed in front of the entire school and now no one can look at him without snickering and picturing his tighty whities in their minds.
Turns out, Walk the Line has cast-iron armor against such ridicule. On watching it again, I was reminded how much I liked this picture. Just like the first time, the music got my toes tapping and my hands clapping, and the romance between Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) got my heart racing and my eyes misty. Recently I reviewed Pride of the Yankees, and despite standing on the legs of a sports biopic, the main story in that movie was the romance between Lou Gehrig and his wife, and so too is Walk the Line not really a story about a musician's rise to fame but instead is a drama of a great love affair.
Perhaps that's why this movie is a living and breathing entity when its closest cousin, Ray, is more of a lumpen approximation of the same. Despite having virtually identical structures, Walk the Line comes alive where Ray rings cold by being too dogmatic an imitation of its subject. Phoenix and Witherspoon don't do dead-on impersonations of their real-life counterparts, but instead sing in the spirit of the originals. It's sort of like when early in the movie Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) shuts down Johnny's audition, telling him to stop singing the same old gospel tune in the same old way and instead sing something he really means.
Phoenix and Witherspoon have a smoldering chemistry that makes the couple's decade-long courtship believable. You can see why he would continue to chase her, and why she would make him work so hard to earn her love and trust. In retrospect, it seems obvious why Reese Witherspoon won the acting Oscar for Walk the Line, as she's really the one who props the film up. Without her, it's another episode of "Behind the Music," with a drug-addicted genius throwing his money away in pursuit of the next high. The presence of June Carter in the Johnny Cash story transforms it from another tale of fame and excess into a more timeless story of being true to one's own values and having the faith to weather personal storms for the bright new morning waiting behind the clouds.
Most of Cash's songs, from "Cry, Cry, Cry" through to the title song, are declarations of his rugged individualism. The movie doesn't even have time to touch on his many political causes and the stands he took on controversial issues, but even without those, we still get a portrait of a man struggling to make his mark. He's all kinetic energy and scattered ideas, and without the stability of June Carter, he would have never gotten on the straight and narrow, he'd have never walked that line. I'm half-tempted to get "WTL" tattooed across my knuckles to remind me to stick to my own ridiculous notions of existentialism and love.
So, yes, Walk the Line manages to shake off the Dewey Cox satirization. (Well, for the most part. When people said lines that inspired songs, or when Johnny first got offered his pills, or all the stuff about his dead brother--I smiled a little, I admit.) What of the weight the movie has gained?
I think the best compliment I can pay Walk the Line: Extended Cut is that I didn't notice the additions at all. The problem with a lot of extended versions of films is that the trims in the original release made sense, making for a leaner picture that gets right down to it without messing around. Granted, when it's all said and done, this movie was only bumped up 17 minutes, from 136 to 153 minutes; even so, looking over a list of what was restored, it turns out that it's material that makes the movie richer for me. Many of the additions were deleted scenes that were available on previous Walk the Line DVDs, and they include more material with Cash's first wife (Ginnifer Goodwin) that actually helps to make her a more sympathetic character. Likewise, other scenes that have been included for the first time or extended manage to enhance different aspects of the story. Johnny's breaking of a test record, for instance, shows his na´vetÚ, and June taking him to church shows more of his healing process, while also driving home further aspects of Johnny's guilt over the loss of his brother (also enhanced by the reinstatement of Jack's funeral).
More important are the musical extensions, where we see Johnny working on "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "I Still Miss Someone." These show us more about his creative process, and how his songs often conform to his personal pain, sometimes easing it, and in the case of his wife catching him writing "Cry," adding to it.
That said, I can't really make the claim that Walk the Line: Extended Cut is a vastly better film than the regular ol' Walk the Line. The return of this footage doesn't hurt the film, but its absence didn't hurt it either. There is nothing to indicate that director James Mangold has been allowed to right some egregious wrong done against him, that his vision for Walk the Line had been hopelessly mangled and without those 17 minutes, his film was a pale shadow of what it could have been.
More of a good thing is still a good thing, but in terms of consumer value, I'm not sure how much I would say you should feel compelled to dump the older DVD in favor of the new one. If you're tempted, then by all means, read on. There are some new extras that might make your decision easier.
Subtitles are available in English (both regular and for the deaf and hearing impaired), and Spanish, and though not advertised, I discovered a French subtitle track when I toggled through the options with my remote.
For those of you keeping score, here are the features that make a return appearance:
* Director's commentary: a serviceable James Mangold track that runs with the movie. (This is the only bonus on DVD 1.)
This almost accounts for everything on the old discs. The 2-disc version also contained three extended, uninterrupted musical performances, which have been expanded here as "Johnny Cash Jukebox," now eight songs with optional introductions by writers, musicians, and people involved with the production giving background on the songs. The tracklist includes "Lewis Boogie" (Jerry Lee Lewis), "Get Rhythm," "You're My Baby" (Roy Orbison), "Jukebox Blues" (June Carter), "Rock and Roll Ruby," "That's All Right Mama" (Elvis Presley), "Jackson" (Johnny and June), and "Cocaine Blues." Unless indicated, they are performances by Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, and the others are performed by the respective actors.
The handful of completely new extras are as follows:
* "More Man in Black": Two deleted scenes that weren't put back into the movie, with optional James Mangold commentary. In one, Johnny interacts with another salesman before his recording career takes off; the other is a longer version of the piece in the film where a strung-out Johnny tries to cash a check.
Both discs come in a standard-sized plastic case with a hinged tray. Inside the case is a folded one-sheet with chapter listings and liner notes; outside the case is a cardboard slipcover.