(Film artwork courtesy of johnnycashmovie.com)
Film Review – “Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon”
By Megan Luebberman
* WARNING THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS
Film Review- Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon
Johnny Cash, one of the most famous musicians of all time, has had several films made about him, including the famous “Walk the Line” movie which surrounds his romance with June Carter. However, this new film is the first one that focuses on Johnny’s faith specifically. It encompasses the wide expanse of Johnny’s entire life, from beginning to end. The moment when Johnny awaited his own death, left hopeless and dejected after his rise to fame and the repeated use of pills and booze, is particularly moving. Miraculously, God called him to a higher purpose even after he had given up–and this is at the heart of the documentary “Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon.”
With narration by Marty Stewart, commentary from other prominent musicians such as Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw, Alice Cooper, and others, words from one of Johnny’s sons and his sister, and the spiritual insights of two Pastors–the audience receives a clear picture of what kind of man Johnny was and grew to be in his life. Additionally, audio in Johnny’s strikingly Southern voice is riddled throughout the documentary, much of it never heard before outside of the Cash’s family until now. This splicing of new and old insights into Johnny’s life effectively displays both his inner thoughts and the perceptions others had of him over the years.
From a viewing perspective, the documentary’s linear narrative structure tells the tale of the high and low points in Johnny’s life semi-clearly. The use of both old footage from when he was alive, as well as cinematically reenacted scenes, heightens the sense of authenticity for the audience. The story begins with an abruptly solemn tragedy of Johnny’s childhood and then moves swiftly onto the start of his music career. This may be jarring to some viewers, as the descriptions are a bit graphic and unexpected. As the film continues on through his adulthood, there are more gradual transitions between life events.
One key point, nearly midway through the film, encapsulates Johnny’s ultimate ‘come to Jesus’ moment as he collapses under the pressures of his fame, substance abuse, and struggling personal life. It’s a contemplative time for the audience. While not all can relate to the strains of fame, many have dealt with difficult trials which led to depression and despair such as Johnny had. In this deeper, dark moment he experienced, where everything seemed futile, God gave Johnny the sense that he wasn’t done yet. In the words of Cash himself, he states that God said in his heart “You do not control your destiny. It’s my will that you do not die now.”
This major turning point in the documentary sets in motion the entirety of Johnny’s Cash’s ministry moving forward, and solidifies this film as a powerful Christian documentary. In the words of Pastor Greg Laurie, “God’s love brought him back. Johnny came out a different man. Now, he was a man on a mission.”
The audience witnesses the amazing, God-led efforts of Johnny Cash after this mighty revelation and sits in awe of Cash’s newfound devotion to the Lord. The remaining half of the film compresses all Johnny’s initiatives to spread the good news of the gospel and showcases what it truly means to be a servant of God. However, certain details about Johnny’s recovery from drug and alcohol abuse do seem to be glossed over, as the shift from total despair to ultimate faith is shown to be in one instant. Conflicts like the troubling guilt over his adultery with June Carter are highlighted beforehand, but never addressed further or reconciled after this point in the film. Furthermore, Johnny’s drug relapses are not mentioned following this one turning point. Showing the continued issues he wrestled with would have increased the veracity of the documentary even more, though of course not everything can always be covered.
Save for a few gaps in the narrative, this story is a representation of redemption from opening to closing; showing how godly growth takes perseverance. “Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon” displays a tale of just one Christian’s hardships–that encourages every other believer to determinedly pursue God’s purpose for their lives, despite affliction. With faith, God will see His children through anything.
“Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon” is exclusively in theaters December 5-7th. For more information, and to reserve your seats, visit: https://johnnycashmovie.com/#home