|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 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 previewed at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2005, and went into wide release on November 18. The film was nominated for five Oscars at the 78th Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Phoenix), Best Actress (Witherspoon, which she won), and Best Costume Design (Arianne Phillips). The film received positive reviews and grossed $187 million worldwide.
The film flashes back to 1944. Then-12-year-old JR (his name at birth was initials only) grows up on a cotton farm in Dyess, Arkansas with his brother Jack, father Ray, and mother Carrie. Ray is stern and strict with his sons but takes pride in Jack, who wants to be a preacher when he grows up.
Jack is killed in a sawmill accident while JR is out fishing. An embittered Ray blames JR for Jack's death, saying the Devil "took the wrong son". Six years later, now-adult JR has enlisted in the Air Force and prepares to leave home for duty in West Germany. His family says their goodbyes, except for Ray who barely acknowledges him. He purchases a guitar while on leave in 1952 and finds solace in writing songs and calling his girlfriend Vivian. One of the songs he develops is "Folsom Prison Blues", inspired by a film that's shown to the airmen.
Cash returns to the United States after his discharge and marries his girlfriend, Vivian Liberto. They move to Memphis, Tennessee, where he works as a door-to-door salesman to support his growing family. Vivian is frustrated by their poverty and urges him to work for her father, but he still dreams of a career in music. He walks past the Sun Records recording studio and is inspired to organize a band. Cash and his two bandmates auditions for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, but he is unimpressed by the gospel music they play. He asks Cash if he would play that song if he was hit by a truck and had time to play just one song before dying. Cash plays "Folsom Prison Blues", and Phillips signs them. The band begins touring as "Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two."
The band plays a show in Louisiana alongside fellow rising stars Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Johnny meets June Carter on this tour and begins to fall in love with her. They become friends, but June gently rebuffs his attempts to woo her, reminding him that he's married. Johnny's fame grows and he begins to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Vivian is angry about his absences and seems to distrust his female fans and June. She objects when Johnny decides to handle his own bookings and persuades June to join the tour with him. The tour is a success, but backstage, Vivian becomes critical of June's influence.
Johnny and June give a performance in Las Vegas and give in to their romance and sleep together. The next morning, June notices Johnny taking pills and has doubts about her choices. Hurt and angry about June's apparent rejection, Johnny behaves erratically at that evening's concert and passes out on stage. June disposes of Johnny's drugs and begins to write "Ring of Fire" about her forbidden love for him and the pain of watching his descent into addiction.
Returning to California, Johnny travels to Mexico to purchase more drugs and is arrested. Vivian is fed up with his substance abuse, absences from home and her certainty that he's unfaithful to her. Their marriage disintegrates and Vivian takes their children and leaves him. They divorce and he moves to Nashville in 1966.
Intent on reconciling with June, Johnny purchases a large house near a lake in Hendersonville. He invites his parents and the extended Carter family for Thanksgiving. Ray and an intoxicated Johnny get into a bitter argument during the meal. June's mother Maybelle encourages her daughter to help him. He goes into amphetamine withdrawal and wakes up with June at his bedside. She says they have been given a second chance. Johnny suffers through cold-turkey detox and kicks his habit. They begin a tentative relationship, although June continues to refuse his marriage proposals.
Johnny discovers that most of his fan mail is from prisoners. He goes to a meeting proposes at Columbia Records and informs the skeptical executives that he will record a live performance album live inside Folsom Prison. The concert is a success.
Johnny embarks on a tour with June and his band. He performs "Ring of Fire" on stage. After that song, Cash invites June to a duet and stops in the middle, saying he cannot sing "Jackson" anymore unless June agrees to marry him. June accepts and they share a passionate embrace on stage.
Johnny, June, their children and extended family visit at his Hendersonville house. He and his father reconcile their relationship. A postscript tells viewers that they play and record music, tour the world for the following three decades. They have a son, John Carter Cash, together, and Johnny and June pass away within months of each other.
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. 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.
Critics generally responded with positive reviews, garnering an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. The two lead performances received rave reviews, particularly Witherspoon's, whose performance is described by critics as her best work to date. Roger Ebert praised Witherspoon for her "boundless energy" and predicted her to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. 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".
|1. Best Actress in a Leading Role (Reese Witherspoon)|
|Golden Globe Awards|
|1. Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy|
|2. Best Actor in a Leading Role - Musical or Comedy (Joaquin Phoenix)|
|3. Best Actress in a Leading Role - Musical or Comedy (Reese Witherspoon)|
|1. Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon)|
|2. Best Sound|
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.