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Overall Rating
4.29

Awesome45.99%
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 Jay Seaver

"Reese Witherspoon is great when she's actually given something worthwhile."
4 stars

My mother and her parents like country music, unlike most of the kids I knew in the Maine suburb where I grew up. Because of this, I tended to dismiss whole swaths of music as boring, because I was a kid and this was stuff old people listened too. So, it wound up taking me far too long to recognize the actual coolness of folks like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.

Cash, as this movie will tell you, grew up a dirt-poor sharecropper in the deep South, put in some time in the Air Force, married his high-school sweetheart (Ginnifer Goodwin), then moved to Memphis hoping to break into the music business. He succeeded, but the time on the road and the drugs he scored there destroyed his marriage. On the plus side, it's there he meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), who will become his muse, his on-stage partner, and the love of his life.

Walk the Line is a love story disguised as rock & roll biography. Indeed, there's something kind of perfunctory about the way the standard parts of a musician's life story are trotted out - the early poverty, the early concert footage in dingy little rooms, the disapproving father, the drugs. I imagine that the life of a touring musician is punishing over the long haul and makes stimulants especially tempting, but you don't really get that here; it's as if drug abuse has become such an expected part of the rock star narrative that they can be treated as something that just sort of inevitably happens, as opposed to something Johnny gets anything out of.

Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal of Johnny is part of that. There's nothing at all wrong with his performance, but I tended to find myself at a loss as to what makes this guy specifically Johnny Cash, or at least unique. Not always, mind, and he did sell the character well enough that I bought him doing his own singing during the concert scenes. Still, there were a number of solid if somewhat generic performances - Ginnifer Goodwin as Cash's first wife, Robert Patrick as the father who's never impressed with his son, a number of decent imitations of Sun Records artists - that after a while, they all sort of run together, like the various siblings and children that appear and make no impression as individuals during scenes of family strife.

But remember that bit about it being a love story in biopic clothing? Those threads are the ones where the filmmakers pull out Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, and that's where Walk the Line starts to stand out from the crowd. June Carter comes off as almost too good to be true; she grew up touring in her family's act, and somehow seems to have come out of early fame relatively unscathed, although her confidence is spotty - she's a total pro on stage, and is smart enough to steer clear of self-destructive behavior after hours, but doesn't really believe in her own talent until Johnny talks her up. She falls for him just as hard as he does for her, but she's initially married and has been raised to well too say to hell with propriety; later she's wary of a man who is such an obvious potential train wreck. So June is the one who is intriguing to watch, to see how close this smart woman will come to succumbing to a temptation that is potentially disastrous. Every scene with her has delicious denial and internal negotiation.

It's also a powerful reminder of how good Ms. Witherspoon is when she's not in absolute crap. She's cashed so many paychecks for playing ditzes or ambitious girls who just need their heart softened by the right man in the past few years that one can be forgiven for forgetting that she brings not-inconsiderable talent to the table. She seems to nail all the individual and specific aspects of her character - a mother, a celebrity, and a devout Christian (of the hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner stripe) with equal parts self-assurance and fear - in every scene. The film probably can't be hers alone, but it absolutely works best when it's about Johnny & June, rather than just Johnny Cash.

And when they're together, they shine. Even if you know what we're told just before the end credits roll, it's fascinating to watch them circle each other, to see how and why things turn out the way they do. Ultimately, the movie becomes more satisfying in retrospect because the rock star stuff feeds their mating dance, so even though it starts as being a decent movie about a popular musician, it becomes a strong one about a love that doesn't run smooth.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12838&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/03/05 02:08:56
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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
5/29/08 PAUL SHORTT A STRONGLY ACTED, MUSICALLY VIBRANT, CONVENTIONALLY SATISFYING BIOPIC 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
11/25/06 Janet I REALLY ENJOYED THE MOVIE IT WAS GREAT JOAQUIN AND REESE DONE A AWESOME JOB 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Nov-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 28-Feb-2006

UK
  03-Feb-2006 (12A)

Australia
  02-Feb-2006




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