Joaquin Phoenix plays the genius country singer Johnny Cash in the Hollywood production of Walk the Line and Phoenix is getting rave reviews for singing Cash’s songs and “sounding just like him.”

If you have spent any time at all listening to Johnny Cash, you know just how much Phoenix DOES NOT sound like Cash at all. It isn’t even close!

There is no terror, depth of despair or rain in Phoenix’s voice and the movie would have been better served if he had lip-synched the great Johnny Cash instead of just aping him.

27 Comments

  1. I’m not a Cash fan per se but I am a Pheonix fan so I probably should just stay out of this conversation all together. The way I see it it is nearly impossible to play a legend and in particular a singer. How often does it happen someone takes on a roll as a legendary singer and actually sing the music themselves? I give Pheonix props for even trying to take on the role to that level. How as his acting? Was it just the singing or did he just not pull it off on any level?
    As I see everyone saw Kevin Spacey pull off Bobby Darin so perfectly (not that I knew any of Darin to begin with) so now everyone has a new level to compete with (of course this is just my opinion). Spacey was many many years older than Darin when he died and somehow still just fit the role perfectly. Then again…Kevin Spacey can do no wrong. What was I talking about?

  2. I know actors love to play other people but when it comes to singing and when there is an established standard — sing as you wish but don’t do a faint imitation of the real thing. Channel Johnny Cash’s spirit and intentions but don’t try to ape his style because you risk sounding foolish and coming off haughty that you could even begin to think you could recreate his magic. I am not a Phoenix fan — I have always found him stiff and empty. His dead brother, however, was an original and created magic in every moment. Perhaps this is another example of the “Jim Belushi” curse where the living brother attempts to recreate the power of the original star brother?

  3. I hear whatcha mean. The original is always better than the imitation. I also understand what you mean about replicating the person but not the voice. It is different. It does make a difference. Is this making sense?

  4. You make tons of sense, soos, and I couldn’t have said it better myself! 😉 I am with you on the real vs. the fake and voices are so unique and so universal to the ear in music that it is hard to separate fakery from flattery. Stick with the real in all instances and no one can blame you for honoring the master.

  5. if the producer’s tried to find an actor, any actor, who sang EXACTLY like Cash, the film would never have been made. james mangold took the right approach as the only alternative would be to have the actors lip syn to original recordings and that is even more distracting.

  6. Look, Joaquin Phoenix doens’t LOOK like Johnny Cash either. If you actually expect someone to portray someone else, you can’t expect plastic surgery and nor can you expect their voice to miraculously become exactly the same as the person he’s portraying. It’s about suspending disbelief; this film is a biopic, not the “My GOD, Joaquin Phoenix is Johnny Cash’s twin” show.

  7. I don’t think anyone could mimic Johnny Cash completely. No one but Cash has walked in those shoes, and it would be impossible for someone to bring those experiences out in song like he does, but you still have to admire the months of vocal training Joaquin Phoenix went through to be able to sing like he does in the film. He might not be absolutely perfect, but there are times where it’s hard to discern between the two. I thought Joaquin’s performance was great, and I doubt there are many out there that could portray the man in black like he does. It’s unfortunate that the movie was disappointing in everything else besides the performances.

  8. You know, I agree with Keenan – the acting performances outshined the story. I wanted more substance. I wanted more about Johnny, but I felt like I got more storyline. He was here, he did this, then he went here and did this. I thought it did a good job of portraying Johnny and June as soulmates, but I left the theater feeling as if something was lacking. Even if Joaquin’s singing had been spot on, I would have felt unsatisfied.

  9. These are valid criticisms, Carla, and I’m happy to get your further feelings on the matter of the movie. These kinds of biopic movies are hard to fathom because the superstars they portray are really ordinary people with exceptional talents. It’s easier using a caricature superstar like Elvis or Sinatra or even Ray Charles because your imitation more closely resembles the fakery of the living.

  10. I felt that same lacking feeling too, Carla. I left the theater extremely dissatisfied by the constant portrayal of Johnny’s drug addiction. I understand it was a major part of his life, but I felt as if it milked it for all its worth and left every other aspect of his life on the sidelines. Maybe that’s the ignorance in me talking because before I saw previews for this film in theaters, I had never once listened to a Johnny Cash song (partly because of my great distaste for country music), but after seeing these previews I became obsessed with his music. I started buying albums and listening to them over and over. So, if one good thing came out of this disappointment of a movie, it’s that it created another well deserved fan of Mr. Cash. I just wish I had known of his music earlier.
    Oh, and David, off subject, but an interesting tidbit (to me at least) of information: I stumbled upon your page here while doing research on how to do a New Jersey accent. The information that I found was a heck of a lot more useful than some stuff floating around on the net. Thanks, and sorry for another long, drawn out reply. 😉

  11. Leaving it a bit late, but I was astonished at how much Joaquin sounds like Johnny Cash from the Nashville Sessions with Bob Dylan. Give it a listen and you might be surprised.

  12. that’s not fair. Yes, Joaquin may not sound exactly like Johnny but who does? And Reese did a more than fair job portraying June. In the end, both actors’ voices sounded great together

  13. that’s not fair. Yes, Joaquin may not sound exactly like Johnny but who does? And Reese did a more than fair job portraying June. In the end, both actors’ voices sounded great together

  14. You guys need to get a life.the film was a nice film,I am not a Johnny cash fan but it did make myself read man in Black,I ended up learning about a piece of americana that i probably would not have tried to pick up. I think thats what james manfeld wanted.
    NOW…as to Actors playing singers in movies and sounding like them only one man has come close and that would be Gary Busey in the buddy holly story he did an execelnt job sings buddy and Jamie fox was a convincing ray charles but i put val kilmer up on the fence for jim morrison not bad but not perfect like other say perfection is only on record of the artists themselves

  15. You guys need to get a life.the film was a nice film,I am not a Johnny cash fan but it did make myself read man in Black,I ended up learning about a piece of americana that i probably would not have tried to pick up. I think thats what james manfeld wanted.
    NOW…as to Actors playing singers in movies and sounding like them only one man has come close and that would be Gary Busey in the buddy holly story he did an execelnt job sings buddy and Jamie fox was a convincing ray charles but i put val kilmer up on the fence for jim morrison not bad but not perfect like other say perfection is only on record of the artists themselves

  16. See, I always thought Johnny Cash had a crap voice. And I know for sure that June Carter couldn’t sing to save her life. I know that to be true, and not just my opinion. I know you have to take into consideration Johnny’s so called mystique and all that, but the man couldn’t sing.