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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 Erik Childress

"Phoenix And Witherspoon Make Beautiful Music Together"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: So many people have expressed surprise to me when I tell them how little I cared for Ray. I, in turn, express surprise when they tell me how much they liked it. Invariably when asked why – it was because of Jamie Foxx’s performance. Most viewers remember little else except maybe the music. For me, Ray was just another in a long line of biopics that played the greatest hits card, a checklist of events utilized right down to the barest of made-for-TV films. Perhaps sensing a trend or conveniently piggybacking off of that film’s success, comes one for Johnny Cash. But what’s infinitely more special about this film is its focus. Your favorite Cash tune may be missed here or there, but you will leave learning a few things about the man and a whole lot of how much love there was in his wounded heart for the beloved June Carter.

In a tragic bit of karma not unlike Ray Charles, the young John Cash also lost a brother to a horrific accident (one which makes drowning seem like a blessing.) John was not punished by blindness, but by a father (Robert Patrick) who blamed him for not being by his brother’s side at the time. Leaving home with a stint in the Air Force, Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) worked on his music, married Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) the girl he briefly dated and found his way into auditioning in the record studio of Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts, in a brief but true performance.)

After switching gears from hymns to hard-nosed country (in a wonderful scene of musical discovery), Cash ends up touring with such names as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and everyone’s favorite downhome girl, June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). There’s an instant kinship between the two, both on stage and off and they quickly become friends despite Johnny’s gentlemanly advances.

The heart of Walk the Line is in their relationship and all the best and worst events in Cash’s life are filtered through it. His struggles with pill-popping will become a hazard to all who know him and even Vivian isn’t dim enough to notice Johnny doesn’t just want another friend on the road. A man’s shifting feelings while committed to another is never the most forgivable of acts, but we’re not asked to forgive him. Vivian is as loyal as the initial commitment could be; a brief courtship with little more than a promise attached, and June is openly questioned by a fan why her parents would even talk to her after committing the sin of her first divorce.

The undercurrent of religious beliefs running throughout Walk the Line is far more interesting than the brimstone miracle of God’s hands taking away Ray Charles’ eyes as his repentance. Johnny is taken aback when Sam Phillips makes the suggestion that he doesn’t believe in God because he doesn’t seem to believe in the music. Later, Johnny’s biggest fans become the inmates of prisons all across America for the songs he had written about serving time; which at their inception wasn’t based in truth. Is living a life with sins enough for condemnation? Or are the hypocrites casting stones too close-eared to listen to the songs they sing about redemption? Enough for us not to believe them anyway. Johnny Cash had his own music and when June would write "Ring of Fire" for him, salvation was right around the corner.

Jamie Foxx did one hell of an impersonation of Ray Charles and Philip Seymour Hoffman does an equally admirable job with Truman Capote this year, but there’s nothing to take away from Phoenix’s work as Johnny Cash. He may not look him, but his vocal work from the signature “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” to the songs themselves is terrific. Even more impressive is Phoenix in the quiet moments of anger and reflection. His facedown with his father during Thanksgiving is a remarkably terrifying and sad crossroads in his life and with what Phoenix brings to the scene (with his own memories of being at the side of brother River when he passed) is as wrenching as anything you’ll see this year.

If you want to pencil in a nomination for Phoenix on your prediction card, then stamp Reese Witherspoon in the actress category. Reese has been languishing in some outright horrifying romantic comedies of late (this year’s Just Like Heaven is about as bad as it gets), but this is the first time since 1999’s Election has she lived up to the talent which led me to say she gave the best single performance in any film that year. She is nothing short of pure joy in performance mode (like Phoenix, doing her own singing) and the model of maturity in her confrontations with him. It’s not easy to represent the sunny disposition her public has come to love and the way she must turn it on even in her most trying moments is a feat that should look phony, but Witherspoon pulls it off effortlessly.

Working from a pair of biographies written by Cash himself, Gill Dennis and director James Mangold have found what most biopics fail to uncover – and that’s what is special about the story they have chosen to tell. We can whittle everything down to accomplishments (in the music industry, Charles and Cash struck similar chords), but an encyclopedia can do that for us. Walk the Line starts with the music and turns it into a true love affair. Filmmakers and actors may try to convince themselves that they’re looking at the man behind the music, but its us they have to convince. You can do that with makeup, mannerisms and all the “heyyyyy”s and “hoooooo”s you can muster, but there’s something to behold when we can feel the love for its subjects and feel the love within for each other. Walk the Line has us clapping along to Cash’s rhythms and applauding during the triumphant finale which is not about success or a summation of longevity, but about two people finding the music they can make together. And what’s more worthy of an encore than that?

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originally posted: 09/24/05 09:24:32
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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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