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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 Tom Ciorciari

"Walking tall."
4 stars

In writer/director James Mangold’s extremely entertaining Johnny Cash biopic, WALK THE LINE, Joaquin Phoenix, as the man in black, and Reese Witherspoon, as the object of his mostly unrequited affection, June Carter, take what might have otherwise been a run-of-the-mill rags to riches to drug and alcohol-induced low to redemption tale and spin pure gold.

Much like last year’s Ray, Walk The Line tells the story of one of America’s musical institutions’ trials and tribulations, starting in childhood and ending somewhere in the mid-1960s. Like Ray Charles, Johnny Cash lost a sibling in childhood and shouldered much of the blame, a great deal of which was heaped upon him but a distinctly unpleasant father (Robert Patrick). And, like Ray Charles, Johnny Cash was heavily influenced by his mother (singer Shelby Lynne channeling Laurie Metcalf) and her book of Heavenly Highway Hymns. And, further like Charles, Cash became a smash sensation in the mid-50s and under the burden of his personal demons became addicted to drugs (in his case, pills), losing what would seem like years before finally kicking and reviving what could have been a lost career, in Cash’s case with the seminal 1968 concert, and LP to follow, at Folsom Prison. If it sounds as if Walk The LIne and Ray are telling similar tales, make no mistake, they are. Where the two differ, however, is in Mangold’s decision not to deify his subject the way that Taylor Hackford did in that earlier film. As a natter of fact, Mangold may go a little too far in the opposite direction, presenting Cash as a man unable to cope with June Carter’s insistent spurning of his affections, while at home his wife and three children are mostly ignored. Yet somehow Phoenix – always an affable and engaging performer, be he playing a burnt-out high schooler (To Die For) or fey dictator (Gladiator) – is able to make this far from perfect man sympathetic, to shade him with enough sincerity that we are rooting for he and June to get together, even though we know that to do so would mean the abandonment of his family. Of course, knowing the outcome in advance does give us a somewhat biased view of what otherwise would be an unseemly situation. And who am I to root against true love?

As June Carter, Reese Witherspoon is pure movie magic. Returning from the netherworld of the-next-Meg! romantic comedies (Legally Blonde, et al) to her Election era glory, Witherspoon is radiant as this young woman who’s grown up famous, surrounded by boys (and what boys! Elvis, Jerry Lee, a virtual who’s who of Sun rockabilly icons), who, at a tender age, is already a consummate professional, yet regarded by her legendary family as merely the “funny one” (despite her obvious musical gifts) and the object of scorn to her Bible Belt fans for divorcing. A strong, together Juliet to Cash’s broken Romeo, it is for the love of June that Cash will finally “walk the line” (her words) and reemerge, an icon in his own time.

Now, if this all sounds a bit somber, well... it is. But, every time that Johnny or June steps up to a microphone the movie jumps to exhilarating, footstompin’ life. Phoenix and Witherspoon, neither of whom has ever sung professionally before, handle all the vocals as if they were born to it, be they the countrified harmonies of “Time’s A-Wastin’” or the blustery rockabilly of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. It’s one thing to have Jamie Fox imitate Ray Charles’ immediately recognizable vocal mannerisms and then hear the real thing every time he opens his mouth to sing, it’s quite another to marvel at how, over the course of this film, Phoenix’s singing voice, almost embarrassing in the early scenes, comes to take on Cash’s full rumbling baritone by the time he takes on “Cocaine Blues” in the Folsom Prison finale.

In the past Mangold’s films have demonstrated a deliberate, almost frustrating pace (Heavy, Cop Land) that has put off a certain sector of the viewing population – the proceedings desperately in need of an Angelina Jolie to get things going. This is not the case here, however. Perhaps due to the constraints of telling the true story, the bulk of which spans better than 10 years, much of which is common knowledge, Mangold keeps things moving at a brisk pace, the movie receiving an added jolt of adrenaline every time the music kicks in. And, yes, by God! there is a lot of music. Tunes by the aforementioned Elvis and Jerry Lee, not to mention Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins! By movie’s end your feet will be sore from all the tapping.

A well done, if old-fashioned Hollywood biopic made something special by its two surprisingly musical and thoroughly engaging leads, WALK THE LINE is a sure bet to be well-represented come awards season.

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originally posted: 02/21/06 07:38:30
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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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