Review – Walk The Line

Today I’ll be reviewing Walk The Line, a movie about the life of Johnny Cash (and by extension June Carter). The movie was released in 2005 but I only recently watched it. Let’s get started shall we?

To a lot of people Johnny Cash is a legend, especially in the United States. He was commonly known as ‘The Man in Black’ and he sang and played for people who had no one else; the man who reinvented himself when he started performing in prisons with June Carter, who was the love of his life. Less know, however, is the life of Johnny Cash before then when he made his first steps to becoming a famous musician, his ongoing battle with an addiction to pep pills and his complex relationship with June Carter. Walk The Line depicts those years, from his youth to his famous performance in Folsom prison. The movie primarily focuses on his romantic relationship with June.

Johnny Cash is born during the Depression in the 30’s in the poor south of the United States of America. His older brother dies when Johnny is about 10 years old, which was a devastating blow to the already struggling family. At the age of 18 Johnny enlists in the military, after which he gets married with Vivian while he tries to make a living as a door-to-door salesman. In the meantime he works on developing his skills as a country musician. He auditions at Sun Records and eventually gets offered a contract. He proceeds to record a couple of hits in the same studio where Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley recorded their songs. Together with the famous musicians of the day, he travels across the country to perform in various theatres. During one of those tours he comes into contact with pills, a substance with which he will struggle until the end of the 60’s.

During one of their tours he meets June Carter, also a singer. On stage, a connection forms between the two but both of them are married to someone else. As a result of this, Johnny gets hooked more and more on drugs and he derails completely when he hears that June is marrying someone else. In the meantime, his own marriage collapses and he ends up being depressed (both musically and emotionally). With the help of June he manages to overcome his problems and he re-invents himself as a musician.

In order to portray the famous couple, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon prepared themselves for over a years. This was because director Mangold insisted that the wild, energetic spirit of Cash’s music couldn’t be caught on camera by playbacking. Both Joaquin and Reese had to learn how to play their respective instruments and sing. The goal was not to portray the original voices, but to give their own twist to the music. As a result, Phoenix’s voice comes pretty close to Cash’s which helps in portraying the man in black. The hairstyles and costumes are really thought through as well. Phoenix manages to nail Cash’s attitude, body language and personality quite well. Reese Witherspoon performs equally well and demonstrates that she can handle more than those dime in a dozen romantic comedies.

The relationship between John and June is portrayed nicely in a couple of hearth-warming and heartbreaking scenes. The personal problems of Johnny Cash get portrayed adequately and the start of his musical career receives enough attention.

Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash

In many aspects, this movie resembles ‘Ray’, that other musical American biography movie. Hardcore Johnny Cash fans will probably wince at some of the details, such as when certain songs are sung. However Walk The Line is a really good film and I would definitely recommend it to anyone (except the people who like movies like ‘The Expendables’, they can piss off). Furthermore, this movie managed to spike my interest in Johnny Cash and his music which is most certainly a positive event.

The only sad thing is that Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash both passed away in 2003 and thus never saw this work about their life.

/Niels