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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 40.88%
Average: 10.95%
Pretty Bad: 0.73%
Total Crap: 1.46%

11 reviews, 71 user ratings

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Walk the Line
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by EricDSnider

"It walks the line pretty nicely."
4 stars

All that separates "Walk the Line," the Johnny Cash biopic, from "Ray," the Ray Charles biopic, is that the subjects were of different races and played different styles of music. Both films start in the poverty-stricken South with the death of the protagonist's brother, an event which haunts him forever. Both films focus on the heroes succumbing to the temptations of fame, particularly drugs and adultery, and both films have scenes where the singers' personal lives work their way into their music. Eventually, both men overcome their obstacles to become preeminent artisans in their respective genres.

The question with "Walk the Line," as with "Ray," is how much you already admire the main character. "Ray" made me appreciate a musician I had previously paid little attention to; "Walk the Line" does nothing to increase or diminish my esteem for Johnny Cash, which was already considerable. Someone who's never given Cash a second thought probably would not give him a third thought after watching the movie.

That said, it's a pretty good biopic for those of us who already like the guy. Joaquin Phoenix, as has become the trend these days, doesn't impersonate Cash so much as he channels him, from his distinctive way of holding a guitar to his iconic singing voice. (Phoenix does his own singing, which is impressive by itself.) Seeing Cash's life (or at least the years between 1950 and 1968) reenacted can be thrilling for fans. Look, there's Jerry Lee Lewis! Hey, it's Elvis, introducing Johnny to recreational pharmaceuticals!

And then there's June Carter. The film, written by Gill Dennis and James Mangold and directed by Mangold ("Girl, Interrupted"), frames its story around Johnny's lifelong love for June (Reese Witherspoon). She grew up in a show-business family and is a consummate professional -- quite the opposite of Johnny, who comes by his fame after years of shiftlessness and does not adjust to it well. She and Johnny are married to other people while touring the country with a group of musicians, and while adultery is fine for him (his wife, stuck at home, goes through the usual biopic histrionics about how he loves his music more than he loves her), June is not that kind of girl.

Witherspoon is able to give June just enough depth to make her a viable character, even outside the lens of Johnny's affection for her. (A scene where a stranger confronts her over her divorce is especially telling.) I noticed that when June is onstage, she ratchets up her Southern twang a couple notches, thus increasing her cachet as a down-home gal the audience can relate to. Whether the real June Carter did this, I don't know, but it's a nice touch either way.

Oddly, while Johnny's struggles occupy the bulk of the film, not much attention is paid to what he's actually thinking. We know he's tormented by the death of his more-favored brother, that his father (Robert Patrick) wishes Johnny had died instead, that he's addicted to pills through much of the 1960s. But his inner demons are not demonstrated so much as implied. If his addiction weren't a fact of history, it would seem like a perfunctory, obligatory movie subplot. ("Well, of COURSE the famous musician is a drug addict. What else?")

His love for June is more thoroughly examined, though, and it ties in directly with his other love, music. He has loved one almost as long as the other. He listened to June on the radio when they were both children, and as an adult, his songs reflect his relationship with her. June famously wrote "Ring of Fire" about her burning, painful love for Johnny, but Johnny sang it with a cowboy stoicism that barely hid its deeper meaning. To Johnny, June and music are inseparable. When he says, "I want to tour with you again," he means it literally -- but he also means he wants to spend more time with her.

Phoenix and Witherspoon's performances are the film's greatest strengths, accurate, honest and affecting. But there's the music, too, that distinctive, locomotive style that Cash played so well and that Phoenix imitates with uncanny precision. It feels plaintive and emotional, the simple expression of a man who has a few things on his mind that he'd like to share. I don't know if non-Cash fans will be converted, but people already in his camp will find that it walks the line quite nicely.

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originally posted: 11/18/05 12:17:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/27/16 Joanie One of Joaquin Phoenix's best movies. 5 stars
5/16/11 Dr.Lao Well acted but painted-by-the-numbers musician biopic 3 stars
8/01/10 the dork knight Boozy musician is an older than dirt trope. Still, Pheonix is great as adorkable Cash 5 stars
2/21/09 tracy what are the pills that he is taking in the movie? 5 stars
8/27/08 Jeff Wilder Pretty good. Different from Ray in its approach to the story. 4 stars
5/09/08 Karrie Millheim Its a great movie, a real good job of showing them 5 stars
12/27/07 Ionicera typical musician biopic, nothing that special here 3 stars
10/19/07 catherine garcia so real 5 stars
10/18/07 Beau great film! an enjoyable film with great performances 4 stars
3/06/07 Robin Hudspeth Great movie, shows the ugly side as well as the good of this love story. 5 stars
2/23/07 dmitry At best a mediocre TV movie of the week...someone should tell Mr.Phoenix to stop acting 1 stars
2/20/07 Tiffany I loved this movie. Reese witherspoon is good in every movie. 5 stars
11/05/06 kid reese witherspoon was born for this movie. she was excellent. she sang good, she acted good 5 stars
10/06/06 Kara I loved it! 5 stars
8/13/06 cody a very good movie about life johnny cash and june carter, reese witherspoon is awesome 4 stars
8/05/06 jalnaiz good, very motivating 5 stars
7/29/06 Heather Marie worth a try 4 stars
7/28/06 Lizzie not this one 2 stars
7/17/06 JenDenmark Great acting, good story, quite entertaining! 5 stars
5/01/06 Del Other people's lives are more interesting than mine 5 stars
4/28/06 Hilda semen THis movie was stupid!!!!!!!!!! This should never be shown again!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
4/21/06 Becky One of my favorites. Great impersonations on the voices, good character devel. 5 stars
4/19/06 Bill Chubbuck Reese is perfect 5 stars
4/01/06 Rose Marie this is an extrodinary film about a legendary star. I thought it was one of the best films. 5 stars
3/25/06 Lea Anne I ABSOLUTELY loved the movie...had no idea that they were doing their own singing. 5 stars
3/23/06 Annie G Just because a famous singer dies, doesn't automatically mean his life is worthy of a movie 3 stars
3/18/06 Elizabeth Go watch it. Now 5 stars
3/18/06 Hydrogen Amazing. A great movie, worthy of all its praise. 5 stars
3/18/06 MP Bartley Utter formula...but mixed to perfection. Phoenix and Witherspoon are wonderful. 5 stars
3/15/06 Shannon Robles jouquin pheonix was brilliant, when you are watching the movie you really believe that you 5 stars
3/13/06 Roderick Cromar I liked this one. 4 stars
3/08/06 Carolyn Rathburn Wonderful, loved it, well done 5 stars
3/08/06 James good movie, 2 disc dvd special features are crap worst special edition ever 4 stars
3/08/06 Katie Amazing performances by Reese and Joaquin along with impressive singing. 5 stars
3/07/06 Nobody Good movie, good acting, plenty of Cash songs. What more do you want? 5 stars
3/04/06 Green Gremlin Johnny Cash will always kick ass !!!!! 5 stars
2/25/06 PAG Great movie. One of the best from 2005. 5 stars
2/13/06 alice Great acting ! 5 stars
2/09/06 helen bradley Joaquin Phoenix great, bit slow in parts 4 stars
1/21/06 Kristina Williams That end scene brought tears to my eyes...great flick 5 stars
1/17/06 Jared Wilson With all the stories they could tell, they told the same story as Ray did in 2004. Shame. 3 stars
1/13/06 Rosita It is so natural 5 stars
1/01/06 ALDO Robert Patrick rules. Yeah, formulaic, but much better than Ray,which felt like a TVmovie 4 stars
1/01/06 carol whoa! I grew up with this music, also in my home we listened to leadbelly... this is rural 5 stars
12/25/05 Reese rather see a movie abour a boy named Sue 3 stars
12/24/05 Mike V Formula bio-pic - but extremely well done. 5 stars
12/22/05 tina mateer great,wonderful movie of johnny cash and june! I plain on buying the dvd someday 5 stars
12/18/05 ownerofdajoint Struggling to overcome life's endless battles with brokenness is done well here 5 stars
12/07/05 malcolm great performances, but these musician bio movies are pretty much all the same 4 stars
12/01/05 bobbi What's the point? Is the movie saying that he's a hero for leaving his wife? 3 stars
11/30/05 Sandra Kerbow Wonderful. I will buy it and watch it over and over 5 stars
11/29/05 Suzz great performances make this worth seeing 4 stars
11/29/05 Marilyn Awesom Strong performances loved the music 5 stars
11/28/05 millersxing A weepy introduction to Johnny Cash for the uninitiated. 3 stars
11/27/05 Billie This was awesome. I've already seen it twice and will buy the DVD when it comes out 5 stars
11/26/05 Ahnold Great movie to introduce Cash to younger generation. Strong performances by all. 5 stars
11/26/05 ajay certainly worth a look. 4 stars
11/25/05 Idiot_for_LMP Great Performances as the buzz has been saying. Didn't like the story. Not a Cash fan. 3 stars
11/23/05 bentable Just wow 5 stars
11/22/05 Kurtis J. Beard Very strong acting. Contrived story. Cash was the man! 4 stars
11/22/05 Taylor Fladgate This movie will stay with you for days. 5 stars
11/22/05 Sasha This movie really moved me, it was a rollercoaster of emotions. Oscars better be handed out 5 stars
11/20/05 Joe Smaltz Oscar material all the way 5 stars
11/19/05 Jonathon Holmes nothing more than a retrad of "Ray" 3 stars
11/19/05 Rick Rivera This film honors an amazing talent and a couple that truly completed one another. 5 stars
10/24/05 Reini Urban Mangold learned some tricks, but still is Mangold. Strong Witherspoon indeed 4 stars
10/17/05 caitlin Witherspoon should get a BA nom. 5 stars
10/13/05 Bob Moore performance risks taken with gratifying results 5 stars
9/30/05 walktheline This movie was amazing. I loved Joaquin and especially Reese. 5 stars
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  18-Nov-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Feb-2006

  03-Feb-2006 (12A)


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