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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Walk the Line’ nudges toward faith

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–The new film about the late Johnny and June Carter Cash ends just before the season in their lives when they became publicly vocal about their faith and how that faith helped Cash in his battle with drugs.

Nevertheless, “Walk the Line,” which opens in theaters Nov. 18, adeptly delves into the themes of man’s struggles with fame, guilt and self-doubt, providing a frank, enlightening look at the country music legends’ lives.

While their religious convictions are only hinted at, the subtle reflection of faith may cause viewers to examine the need for a spiritual cornerstone in their own battles against destructive forces.

Johnny Cash, married with children when he began performing with June Carter, the younger member of the famous Carter family, found her to be a kindred spirit, perhaps even a lighthouse. She, on the other hand, had avoided his yearnings because he was married. The film never clearly states whether their relationship became a physical one before his divorce; therefore we’re never sure if this union was built on adultery. This possibility surprised me as Johnny and June were blessed with popularity and riches and were successful in their efforts to present Christ to hundreds of thousands through their music and public appearances. Would God bless such a union if it had been formed in sin? Their relationship raises questions, and the portrayal makes it evident that these are faulty people, not virtuous saints.

Yet, it’s for that very reason the film is profound. It spoke to me of everyman’s struggle with sin and weakness while attempting to develop a relationship with the Creator.

The film’s themes –- man’s struggle with temptation and self-esteem, alongside the strength of love — reminded me that all people, famous and not so, are just that -– people who need to depend on God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice.

Some moviegoers will enjoy the musical performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, while those who appreciate the power of Cash and Carter’s vocal distinctions may wish the producers had dubbed in original recordings. Vocal abilities aside, I think most will be impressed with the sincerity of the actors’ approach to the music and to these two icons of the country music world. Well-directed, with a crackerjack supporting performance by Waylon Malloy Payne as Jerry Lee Lewis, the film entertains and fascinates.

Walk the Line is rated PG-13 for its thematic material, such as the subjects of adultery and drug dependency. While there are several obscenities (expressions that are objectionable or repugnant to acceptable standards of decency or morality) and several expletives, I caught only one misuse of Jesus’ name and that came from a drug dealer as the Carter family forces him off their property at gunpoint -– one of the best scenes in the film in their tough love for Cash as he battled his demons.

Another standout moment: Mr. Cash is arranging to do a performance for the inmates at Folsom Prison, when he is told, “Christians aren’t going to like you singing to a bunch of murderers and rapists.” Mr. Phoenix as Mr. Cash responds, “Then they’re not really Christians.” That moment reminded me that I am to care for, and reach out to, all sinners, that God is willing and able to forgive all sins, not just mine.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective. For further information, go to his website at www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright