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Walk the Line (Widescreen Edition) (2005)

Drama and Music Video & Concerts movie directed by James Mangold

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A triumph for Phoenix and Witherspoon

  • Nov 17, 2005
  • by
Pros: Phoenix, Witherspoon, and a great story.

Cons: None

The Bottom Line: A true classic and easy Oscar favorite.

Condensing something as vast and complex as the life of a person into a film is often a daunting task. With so many events that comprise the span of an individual, knowing what to cover and what to omit is a daunting task for any writer. For an icon like Johnny Cash, this task becomes monumental as not only does the history and humanity of the individual need to be captured, but the very soul of the artist as well.

Thankfully in the film “Walk the Line” Writer Gil Dennis and Writer/Director James Mangold capture the very essence of The Man in Black. Unlike many biopics that focus on the rise and fall of an individual, “Walk the Line” strives to balance than man and his demons without losing the compassion of the character.

The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, a man who rose from poverty in Dyess Arkansas to become on of the most beloved and enduring entertainers in history. Chronicling portions of his childhood, and the hardships he endured as well as his sting in the Air Force, we are shown things that helped shape the man he was to become. Shortly after his Air Force career, Johnny marries Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), and they start a family. Struggling to make ends meet as a door to door salesman, and facing pressure to take a job with her father in San Antonio Johnny manages to gain an audition for Sun Records in Nashville.

When told in the audition that his Gospel songs will not sell, Johnny instead performs one of his own compositions and earns a record contract. Before long, he and his band are on the road playing with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). June who has been part of a singing family as well as an object of admiration for Johnny since their childhoods soon becomes a friend to Johnny as he copes with rising fame and the pressures and temptations of life on the road.

As Johnny spends more and more time on the road, tensions between him and Vivian grow causing Johnny to delve deeper into the temptations that are available to him as a star. During this time, Johhny becomes obsessed with June, who wile attracted to Johnny has just come from a failed marriage and does not want to break up Johnny’s family. It is against this backdrop that the unusual courtship between the two begins. They spend time with one another on the road, they talk for hours on end, and even perform duets with one another on stage, yet Johnny’s love for June remains a source of frustration that only leads him deeper into his destructive behaviors.

While the addition that grips Johnny is a driving part of the film, the main focus of the story is the love between Johnny and June and their unusual courtship that survived despite marriages, addictions, denials, and their own insecurities. Phoenix and Witherspoon are amazing and give Oscar Caliber performances that are easily the best in recent years. Not only do they both convey the mannerisms of their flesh and blood counterparts, but they convey solid chemistry and compassion from the audience.

While one can say that Johnny was an adulterer and a drug addict, his gentle nature, compassion, and humanity are abundantly clear in the way he is portrayed by Phoenix. We do not see Cash as a stuck up rock star, we see him as a simple human being, who used his gifts to connect with the masses yet never lost site of his heart. His tenderness, honesty, and devotion to his music, June, and eventually himself are clear and Phoenix is able to portray this by a reserved and endearing manner that captures the man he is portraying. Far too many films of this type are loaded with scenes of conflict, screaming, conflict and destruction that it was refreshing to see Johnny attempt to win June by stubbornness, and persistence yet never losing his easy going mannerisms despite being wracked by addiction.

Much has been made of the decision to let Phoenix and Witherspoon sing their parts rather than dub the voices. Unlike in the film “Ray” where Jaime Foxx had his singing dubbed over, the accurate and heartfelt interpretations of the songs only underscores the triumph and complexity of their performances.

Not just a good film but a great film, “Walk the Line” is an endearing and entertaining film that keeps you engrossed from start to finish. If you are not a fan of Johnny Cash when you see this film, at the least you will find a new found respect for this American Legend.

5 stars out of 5
Gareth Von Kallenbach
Skewed and Reviewed
International Association of Film Critics


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More Walk the Line (2005) reviews
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Very strong acting performances by the leads. I wish there was a second part of the film that lead up to the passing of both of June and Johnny.
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Phenomenal film with phenomenal acting. This is a must-see. Awesome music, heart wrenching drama centered on the human condition, and totally characters you'll fall in love with. As a general rule, I find that true stories make for terrible films... writers seem to get lazy and rely too much on the elements of the true story without adapting it to make for a compelling film (i.e. The Blind Side). Not at all the case here though. Prepare to cry ; )
review by . May 30, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Stars Phoenix and Witherspoon are the movie. Their performances are top-drawer as, surprisingly, is their singing. Phoenix worked hard to master the tics and idiosyncracies of Johnny Cash. In fact, having seen Cash in concert on several occasions, I occasionally felt that some of the signature gestures, such as the pout and guitar slinging were a bit overdone.     The storyline wasn't all that engrossing. Too much emphasis for me on a few selected episodes from Cash's life and …
review by . February 03, 2007
We missed this movie in the theater, and it finally popped up to the top in our netflix queue, a bit like cream rising to the top of the milk churn. This is an extremely well done biopic, that limits itself to the early career of Johnny Cash's life. The script is almost a little too clever, or perhaps the source material--Cash's own autobiographies--made things a little too clear, in that sometimes the connections between his actions and his childhood are so strong that it's like the screenwriter …
review by . September 26, 2006
"Walk The Line" is supposed to be about the ups and downs of one John R. Cash, but in actuality, it's three stories in one. The first story is that of Johnny Cash, who grew up in Arkansas a poor farmer's son. His father was hard on him and even cruel when Johnny's older brother passes in an accident. As Johnny gets older, he pursues a career in music. His first big break comes at the hands of none other than Sam Phillips. You know him for his many acts which include the King, the Killer, and the …
review by . May 22, 2006
This past weekend I was able to watch this film and Joaquin Phoenix wears Johnny Cash like a suit. He isn't doing a Rich Little impersonation, you don't rub your eyes in disbelief, but he channels a man so distinct in appearance and voice to a level that is beyond admirable. One of the traits that made Johnny Cash a legend was that nobody sounded or looked like him. Short of a computer generated Cash walking around in his own bio-pic like one of those John Wayne beer commercials this is the definitive …
review by . May 21, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
"Walk the Line" isn't just an admirable improvisation; it is a great movie. Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) live out the classic love story. He is in love with her, but she is usually unavailable or uninterested. There are other fascinating storylines available, too. The movie illuminates his difficult childhood with his brother's tragedy and his father's abuse. We also feel the anguish of an artist before he becomes famous. He must start with an unfulfilling marriage …
review by . March 02, 2006
Rarely has a biopic film made such a racket at the box office. After viewing the DVD version of WALK THE LINE the reasons for that success must be attached to some sort of homage to Johnny Cash, an American icon of sorts. Yes, his life and career are notable - the emergence of a legendary Country Western singer out of the elements of a warped childhood peaked by the accidental death of his older brother whom the father clearly preferred, and the torture of self doubt that haunted a man through an …
review by . December 02, 2005
Pros: acting, costumes, music     Cons: formulaic, a little cheesy     The Bottom Line: The bottom line shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.     When creating a biopic of someone who lived a long, tumultuous life, filmmakers often have difficulty choosing where to focus their attention. Trying to find a balance between illustrating the protagonist’s formative years, struggles to gain recognition, destructive behaviors, and adult …
About the reviewer
Gareth Von Kallenbach ()
Ranked #112
I am a syndicated movie & game critic, writer, author and frequent radio guest. My work has appeared in over 60 publications worldwide and he is the creator of the rising entertainment site "Skewed … more
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A solid and entertaining biopic,Walk the Lineworks less as a movie than an actors' showcase for its stars. Joaquin Phoenix's total immersion into the skin of singer Johnny Cash is startling--watching it, you can't believe this is the same guy who whined about being "vexed" inGladiator. As he evolves from a farm boy to gospel croonin' plunker to the Man in Black, Phoenix disappears into Cash's deep baritone, his way of slinging the guitar onto his back, and his hunched-up style of strumming. But it's more than just picking up mannerisms: Phoenix also sings as Johnny Cash, and it's quite impressive.

The story of how Johnny Cash became Johnny Cash traces from his childhood under a distant father (Robert Patrick) to his early attempts at a music career, during which he married his girlfriend Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin). During a tour with the likes of Elvis (Tyler Hilton) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne), he encounters singer June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), and his love for her--and her rejection of him through the years--spurs him into drugs, drinking, and depression. As with most movies based on real-life singers, as his popularity grows, the women come a-flockin', and the childhood demons surface. Witherspoon, who matches Phoenix drawl for drawl, plays June both as a sassy spitfire whose charm breaks your heart, and as a sympathetic friend who tries to help Cash get over--well, her. The love story is what endures, but the ...

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Director: James Mangold
Genre: Drama, Music, Musical
DVD Release Date: February 28, 2006
Runtime: 136 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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