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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 Rob Gonsalves

"Sturdy if uninspired portrait of a legend."
4 stars

Johnny Cash was a giant -- a myth (partly of his own making) -- and "Walk the Line" reduces him to just a man. Some of Cash's fans may take issue with that, but it's something that Cash himself, who stripped his sound way down in his final decade, might have approved of.

In Walk the Line, John R. Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) is revealed as a country boy with deep self-esteem problems: for instance, he has the Stand by Me scene where his perfect older brother dies and his father rails at God for "taking the wrong son." John just wants to play music, like the Carter Family on the radio, especially that cute little June Carter. He starts out as a fumbling gospel singer at a time when gospel is on the way out and the axis of rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, and country are taking over music. Luckily he has his own tune to fall back on, "Folsom Prison Blues" -- taken not from hard experience but from a newsreel he saw in the Air Force.

By demythologizing Cash, and taking him so far into self-abnegation that June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) even says "Maybe you should take credit for something," Walk the Line paradoxically restores the great man's larger-than-life aura. It was hard work to become "Johnny Cash," the man who seemed to run against all popular wisdom and come out bigger than ever -- releasing a live prison album when nobody thought it would sell; covering Nine Inch Nails in his twilight years, when most singers his age would've been happy to sit back and cash the royalty checks. Joaquin Phoenix gets Cash's early insecurity -- he was an original because, frankly, he sucked at being like anyone else. When we first see him perform "Folsom Prison Blues" for record-label honcho Sam Phillips, Phoenix's Cash begins shakily but gains power and confidence. It's a primal finding-your-voice moment that reminded me of Kurt Russell blissfully laying down "Blue Moon of Kentucky" in John Carpenter's Elvis, which this movie most resembles.

The movie, executive-produced by John Carter Cash (the only child of Johnny and June), is structured as a love story between two entertainers married to other people who don't appreciate their artistry. Cash's first wife (Ginnifer Goodwin) is drawn as an unimaginative woman who just wants John to go into her daddy's business. She has a point: he's got a child to feed and another on the way, and his gospel career is going nowhere. But success soon comes, and with it the by-now-clichéd temptations of sex and drugs. Cash gets hooked on amphetamines and barbiturates, introduced to him by some of the bad boys in his circle. (Some of them include Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison; the movie is particularly fine at capturing a confusing moment in pop culture, before rock and country definitively went separate ways.)

What John needs is an equal, someone who won't say yes to him all the time, and he finds his redemption in June Carter (Witherspoon hasn't been this vibrant in years). She's a perky princess in a family of country-music royalty; he's the strange proto-goth with dirt under his fingernails and beer on his breath. Nobody wants them together; even June isn't sure. But John pursues her over the years, and she is touched by how strenuously he works to make himself worthy of her. Our knowledge that their union lasted 35 years, until her death in 2003 and his death four months later, helps fill in the blanks left by a sometimes too-respectful, son-approved script.

Walk the Line is a sturdily conventional biopic, directed with no special touches by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted; Cop Land). The concert scenes, with Phoenix and Witherspoon providing their own capable vocals, are just this side of electrifying -- Mangold doesn't have time to let the performances build. We get a triumphant rendition of "Cocaine Blues" at Folsom, but we don't get his San Quentin appearance, with his legendary reading of "San Quentin, may you rot and burn in hell," which on the live album gets an audience response unlike any other you'll hear. Walk the Line tames Cash a little, and provides no insight into why he would write a fabled lyric like "I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die."

Phoenix's mercurial performance, less cool than hot-blooded, tells us some of it, and there are moments when you can honestly see how Phoenix's Cash could age into the towering oak tree who cut 1994's "American Recordings" and, at age 62, became a bad-ass for a whole new generation.

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originally posted: 12/28/06 14:08:05
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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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