Joaquin Phoenix is one of those actors who started acting in their childhood, and has been in plenty of movies but gained notoriety for their later work. Consequently, when people go back to watch their earlier works, they’ll exclaim, “I didn’t know _______ was in this!” One does wonder what growing up in the movie industry does to an individual, either turning them to addictions or erratic behaviors. Sometimes these individuals turn out fine, but the dramatic nature of the profession is a hard habit to break. Joaquin Phoenix seems to fall somewhere in between. He’s shown he can be a successful actor in a variety of roles, but he’s also had a few “moments” that people are still trying to figure out. For Joaquin, his acting career can be easily divided between pre- and post- “retirement.” This week’s two films highlight movies made on either side of Joaquin Phoenix’s hiatus.
Walk the Line
Length: 136 minutes / 2.26 hours
Even though Joaquin Phoenix started his acting career around the age of 11, he didn’t really break out until the turn of the millennium. Working on projects like Signs (2002), and The Village (2004) with M. Night Shyamalan, Joaquin Phoenix gradually started becoming a household name. Of course, most knew who he was after he earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator (2000). His nominations for Best Actor would come through his involvement in Walk the Line (2005) and The Master (2013). While he hasn’t won an Oscar yet, it’s clear he has the ability to in the future. After all, he has worked with plenty of critically-acclaimed directors like Gus Van Sant, Oliver Stone, and Paul Thomas Anderson, both before and after his “autobiography,” I’m Still Here (2010).
Perhaps Joaquin Phoenix’s best shot for earning the Oscar for Best Actor was as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line. This biopic follows Cash as he finds his way into the fame and fortune of country music built on his song, “Folsom Prison Blues.” Now that he has a contract and a band, Cash starts touring the country, eventually meeting June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). Both Johnny and June are married, but even after June divorces her husband, she does not reciprocate Cash’s feelings. This drives Johnny to drugs and alcohol, which makes things awkward when she does finally give in to his wooing. Cash falls down the slippery slope of addiction, eventually being jailed for illegal drugs. Of course, this ends up giving him more credibility, especially to the fans of his who appreciated the lyrics of “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Length: 126 minutes / 2.10 hours
I would be amiss to not mention Joaquin Phoenix’s behavior surrounding the documentary I’m Still Here. While it’s since been labeled as a mockumentary to highlight how “reality” can be scripted (like in “reality television”), Joaquin’s drastic transformation from an actor to a bearded hip-hop singer caught most people’s attention. Sure, he was “in character” during this time, culminating in the release of I’m Still Here, but he had to be that character everywhere he went, which sold the commitment to his “retirement” from acting. Even if this wasn’t a real retirement, he still took a brief hiatus afterward to let the experience fade from people’s minds. Since this hiatus, one of his most memorable performances has been that of Theodore Twombly in Spike Jonze’s almost prophetic vision of the future: Her (2013).
In a not-to-distant future where people need to hire someone to write emotional letters for them, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is employed as a writer of such letters. Despite his ability to express deep emotions through his writing, he struggles with his own loneliness and depression after the divorce from his wife. To help himself cope, he buys an artificial intelligence-based Operating System (OS) for his computer. This Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a female voice and names herself Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha and Theodore gradually fall in love, which makes for an awkward conversation when he meets with his wife to sign the divorce papers. Unfortunately, Samantha’s AI nature leads to other, unconventional relationship problems that eventually results in the two of them separating, albeit amicably and on good terms.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfect Joaquin Phoenix roles
Bacon #: 2 (The Yards / Charlize Theron -> Trapped / Kevin Bacon)