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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 brianorndorf

"Johnny Cash, and a film that doesn't do him justice"
3 stars

Coming right after the huge success of last year’s “Ray,” “Walk the Line” feels like day old bread. Dramatizing the life and times of Johnny Cash is a daunting task, and when director James Mangold keeps stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon on stage, the results are electric. The rest of the picture is not, trudging through tired drug abuse sequences and assorted formulaic time wasters, talking away any truly rounded portrait of the man in black.

Finding the trauma in his life whisked away by the power of song, Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) commits his early years to understanding how music works, and looking for his big break. After marrying young (Vivian Cash is played by Ginnifer Goodwin), Cash soon takes to the road, touring along with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) while his records climb the charts. Unsatisfied with his situation, Cash soon starts to chase Carter, who reluctantly gives in to him and soon regrets her decision when Cash’s life dissolves into a kaleidoscope of anger, pills, and disappointment.

Writer/director James Mangold clearly has a soaring affection for Johnny Cash, since “Walk the Line” is a straight-up love letter to the late, great singing legend. However, in his effort to illustrate the power of will Cash demonstrated in his life, Mangold’s focus is thrown askew, making “Line” all about Cash’s demons, and displaying almost none of his joy.

Cringingly, “Walk the Line” is as formulaic a biographical picture as can be made. “Line” follows the same route as last year’s Oscar winning “Ray,” taking the audience on a ride through broken childhood, professional growth, heavy womanizing, and ultimately drugs and despair. It seems that anything related to music has to follow these pathways; yet, these films continue to be made, completely oblivious that they are all alike. Mangold is a director with some sense of personality (“Girl, Interrupted,” “Cop Land”), so it’s a surprise that he would stoop to keeping “Line” so attentive to the familiar. Thankfully, Cash’s cinematic story is a convincing one, taking the singer from the tragic loss of his older brother as a child to the heights of fame to his stormy courtship with the unresponsive June Carter. “Walk the Line” is basic to a fault, but it has the raw materials to get it at least halfway to success.

Taking the film the rest of the way are the performances, which are spellbinding. Joaquin Phoenix takes the challenge to impersonate Cash very seriously, and he sweats, glares, and stalks his way to a meticulous performance. In a dramatic choice, Mangold has instructed his cast to do their own singing, allowing the performers to slip into the skin of the songs and feel around. Phoenix does a spot-on job mimicking Cash’s baritone and swagger, at times becoming one with the man in black. Phoenix is no stranger to jittery, internalized roles, so his domestic Cash is decent work. It’s only when Phoenix hits the stage does the audience see just how far the actor has dug into his role. The concert sequences are electric, and prop the film up when Mangold finds himself wailing the audience over the head with Cash’s dark moments.

Reese Witherspoon’s performance is the real surprise here. Also doing her own signing, Witherspoon has the perfect twang to bring June Carter to life. Her chemistry with Phoenix onstage is worth the price of admission alone, with the two actors making every moment together in performance glowing (also crucial to their characters). Unfortunately, when Carter is off the stage, the script reduces her to a nag, constantly berating Cash about his lifestyle choices. Mangold isn’t particularly kind to women in “Line,” and maybe that’s the way Cash saw his own life. For the film to work, however, Carter needed to be seen as a siren that Cash couldn’t live without, but that feeling is never solidified. Instead of swooning over the couple and their battles to love each other, “Line” becomes a giant exercise in figuring out just what Carter saw in Cash in the first place. Not quite what Mangold had in mind, I’m sure.

As “Line” delves further and further into Cash’s addictions and downward spiral, less time to given to his musical triumphs, robbing the film of a true depiction. The legendary Folsom Prison concert, which lightly bookends the film, is a powerhouse, cleanly displaying the fire in Cash’s belly, as well as his mischief. There isn’t enough of that in “Line;” the dedication to the drug abuse encompassing way too much screentime, and steals away focus from the romance in the Cash and Carter union.

“Walk the Line” only tells part of the Cash legend (the film ends in the late 1960s), with a heartbreaking coda (which states that Cash died in 2003 a mere four months after June), hinting that perhaps Mangold was looking in the wrong era to find out what made Johnny Cash tick.

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originally posted: 11/18/05 16:14:06
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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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