Walk the Line
Walk the Line is a 2005 American biographical musical romantic drama film directed by James Mangold. The screenplay, written by Mangold and Gill Dennis, is based on two autobiographies authored by singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, 1975's Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and 1997's Cash: The Autobiography. The film follows Cash's early life, his romance with June Carter, and his ascent in the country music scene. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash, Reese Witherspoon as Carter, Ginnifer Goodwin as Cash's first wife Vivian Liberto, and Robert Patrick as Cash's father.
|Walk the Line|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Mangold|
|Produced by||James Keach|
|Screenplay by||Gill Dennis|
|Based on||Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and Cash: The Autobiography|
by Johnny Cash
|Music by||T Bone Burnett|
|Edited by||Michael McCusker|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$187 million|
Walk the Line premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2005, and was theatrically released by 20th Century Fox on November 18. The film grossed $187 million on a $28 million budget. It received five nominations at the 78th Academy Awards: Best Actress (for Witherspoon, which she won), Best Actor (for Phoenix), Best Sound, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing.
In 1944, 12-year-old Johnny is raised on a cotton farm in Dyess, Arkansas, with his brother Jack, father Ray, and mother Carrie. One day, Jack is killed in a sawmill accident while Johnny is out fishing; Ray blames Johnny for Jack’s death, saying that the Devil “took the wrong son”.
After his discharge, Cash returns to the United States and marries his girlfriend, Vivian Liberto. The couple moves to Memphis, Tennessee, where Cash works as a door-to-door salesman to support his growing family. He walks past a recording studio, which inspires him to organize a band to play gospel music. Cash's band auditions for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. Phillips signs them after they play "Folsom Prison Blues", and the band begins touring as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, alongside fellow rising stars Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
On tour, Johnny meets June Carter, with whom he falls in love. They become friends, but June gently rebuffs his attempts to woo her. As Johnny’s fame grows, he starts abusing drugs and alcohol.
Over Vivian's objections, Johnny persuades June to go tour with him. The tour is a success, but backstage, Vivian becomes critical of June's influence. After one performance in Las Vegas, Johnny and June sleep together. The next morning, she notices Johnny taking pills, and doubts her choices. At that evening's concert, Johnny, upset by June's apparent rejection, behaves erratically and eventually passes out on stage. June disposes of Johnny's drugs, and begins to write "Ring of Fire", describing her feelings for him and her pain at watching him descend into addiction.
Returning to California, Johnny travels to Mexico to purchase more drugs and is arrested. Johnny’s marriage to Vivian implodes; they divorce and he moves to Nashville in 1966. Trying to reconcile with June, Johnny purchases a large house near a lake in Hendersonville. His parents and the extended Carter family arrive for Thanksgiving, at which time Ray and an intoxicated Johnny get into a bitter argument. After the meal, June's mother encourages her daughter to help Cash. He goes into detox and wakes with June; she says they have been given a second chance. They begin a tentative relationship, but June rebuffs his marriage proposals.
Johnny discovers that most of his fan mail is from prisoners. He proposes to skeptical Columbia Records executives that he will record an album live inside Folsom Prison. The performance is a success, and Johnny embarks on a tour with June and his band. He later performs "Ring of Fire" on stage. After the song, Cash invites June to a duet and stops in the middle, saying he cannot sing "Jackson" any more unless June agrees to marry him. June accepts and they share a passionate embrace on stage. Johnny and his father reconcile their relationship.
- Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash
- Reese Witherspoon as June Carter
- Ginnifer Goodwin as Vivian Cash
- Robert Patrick as Ray Cash
- Dallas Roberts as Sam Phillips
- Dan John Miller as Luther Perkins
- Larry Bagby as Marshall Grant
- Shelby Lynne as Carrie Cash
- Tyler Hilton as Elvis Presley
- Waylon Payne as Jerry Lee Lewis
- Shooter Jennings as Waylon Jennings
- Sandra Ellis Lafferty as Maybelle Carter
- Dan Beene as Ezra Carter
- Clay Steakley as W.S. "Fluke" Holland
- Johnathan Rice as Roy Orbison
- Johnny Holiday as Carl Perkins
- Ridge Canipe as young J.R.
- Lucas Till as young Jack Cash
Development and pre-production
The film has its origins in a 1993 episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. That year, Cash was a guest star on the show, where he and June Carter became friends with Jane Seymour, the star of the show, and Seymour's husband James Keach who was directing the episode. By the mid-1990s, Cash had asked Keach to make a film of his life; he and Seymour began the process with a series of interviews. In 1997, the interviews had been the basis of a screenplay written by Gill Dennis, with input from Keach; two years later, still lacking any studio interest, Keach contacted James Mangold, who had been "angling to become involved in the project for two years." Mangold and his wife, producer Cathy Konrad, developed the script for Sony, and by 2001, they had a script they thought they could pitch to a studio. Sony and others turned it down, but Fox 2000 agreed to make the film.
The film was in part based on two autobiographies, both of which were optioned: Man in Black (1975) and Cash: The Autobiography (1997), though the film "burrows deep into painful territory that Mr. Cash barely explored."
Phoenix met Cash months before hearing about the film. When Phoenix read the script, he felt there were at least ten other actors who would be better in the role. All of Cash's vocal tracks in the film and on the accompanying soundtrack are played and sung by Phoenix. To prepare for her role as June Carter, Witherspoon studied videos of the singer; she also listened to her singing and telling stories to get her voice right.
Walk the Line was released on November 18, 2005, in 2,961 theaters, grossing $22.3 million on its opening weekend behind Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It went on to earn $119.5 million in North America and $66.9 million in the rest of the world for a total of $186.4 million, well above its $28 million budget, making it a box office success. It was the all-time highest grossing music biopic until Straight Outta Compton surpassed it in 2015.
Walk the Line has an approval rating of 82% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 210 reviews and an average rating of 7.25/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Superior acting and authentic crooning capture the emotional subtleties of the legend of Johnny Cash with a freshness that is a pleasure to watch". Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 72 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert praised Witherspoon for her "boundless energy" and predicted her to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Regarding Phoenix, Ebert wrote "Knowing Johnny Cash's albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. The closing credits make it clear it's Joaquin Phoenix doing the singing, and I was gob-smacked". In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano wrote, "Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do first-rate work – they sing, they twang, they play new-to-them instruments, they crackle with wit and charisma, and they give off so much sexual heat it's a wonder they don't burst into flames".
A. O. Scott, in his review for The New York Times, had problems with Phoenix's performance: "Even though his singing voice doesn't match the original – how could it? – he is most convincing in concert, when his shoulders tighten and he cocks his head to one side. Otherwise, he seems stuck in the kind of off-the-rack psychological straitjacket in which Hollywood likes to confine troubled geniuses". In his review for Time, Richard Corliss wrote, "A lot of credit for Phoenix's performance has to go to Mangold, who has always been good at finding the bleak melodrama in taciturn souls ... If Mangold's new movie has a problem, it's that he and co-screenwriter Gill Dennis sometimes walk the lines of the inspirational biography too rigorously".
Andrew Sarris, in his review for The New York Observer praised Witherspoon for her "spine-tingling feistiness", and wrote, "This feat has belatedly placed it (in my mind, at least) among a mere handful of more-than-Oscar-worthy performances this year". Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B+" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "while Witherspoon, a fine singer herself, makes Carter immensely likable, a fountain of warmth and cheer, given how sweetly she meshes with Phoenix her romantic reticence isn't really filled in". Baltimore Sun reviewer Michael Sragow wrote, "What Phoenix and Witherspoon accomplish in this movie is transcendent. They act with every bone and inch of flesh and facial plane, and each tone and waver of their voice. They do their own singing with a startling mastery of country music's narrative musicianship". In his review for Sight and Sound, Mark Kermode wrote, "Standing ovations, too, for Witherspoon, who has perhaps the tougher task of lending depth and darkness to the role of June, whose frighteningly chipper stage act – a musical-comedy hybrid – constantly courts (but never marries) mockery".
Some critics found the film too constrained by Hollywood plot formulas of love and loss, ignoring the last twenty years of Cash's life and other more socio-politically controversial reasons he was considered "the man in black".
Rosanne Cash was critical of the film. She was upset "because it had the three most damaging events of [her] childhood: [her] parent's divorce, [her] father's drug addiction, and something else bad that [she] can't remember now". Furthermore, she said, "The movie was painful. The three of them [in the film] were not recognizable to me as my parents in any way. But the scenes were recognizable, and the storyline, so the whole thing was fraught with sadness because they all had just died, and I had this resistance to seeing the screen version of my childhood".
For his portrayal of Johnny Cash, Phoenix won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Additionally, he received nominations for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, the Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. For his involvement in the film's soundtrack, he won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media.
For her portrayal of June Carter, Witherspoon won an Academy Award for Best Actress, a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, a BFCA Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress, a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress, an Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress, a Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role. The film was nominated for Academy Awards in Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.
Film critic Andrew Sarris ranked Walk the Line number seven in top films of 2005 and cited Reese Witherspoon as the best female performance of the year. Witherspoon was also voted Favorite Leading Lady at the 2006 People's Choice Awards. David Ansen of Newsweek ranked Witherspoon as one of the five best actresses of 2005.
On February 28, 2006, a single-disc DVD and a two-disc collector edition DVD were released; these editions sold three million copies on their first day of release. On March 25, 2008, a two-disc 'extended cut' DVD was released for region one. The feature on disc one is 17 minutes longer than the theatrical release, and disc two features eight extended musical sequences with introductions and documentaries about the making of the film. The film has been released on Blu-ray Disc in France, Sweden and the UK in the form of its extended cut. The American Blu-ray features the shorter theatrical cut.
Wind-up Records released the soundtrack in November 2005. It featured nine songs performed by Joaquin Phoenix, four songs by Reese Witherspoon, two songs by Tyler Hilton, and one song each by Waylon Payne, Johnathan Rice, and Shooter Jennings. The album received a Grammy at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Pictures, Television or Other Visual Media.
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