4YE’s Big Movie Binge: Walk the Line (2005)

Credit: Fox 2000

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash had a rather unconditional love story. The both of them met while performing and formed a lasting, if somewhat volatile friendship until, in the mid-sixties, Johnny asked June to marry him and she accepted. The two of them were married for 35 years and died in 2003 within months of each other, proving that their love was enduring and beautiful.

In Walk the Line, made in 2005, Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon portray Johnny and June, and they do their own singing in the film as well. The film charts Johnny’s rise to fame, from his childhood in Dyess, Arkansas to his drug problem and redemption that is punctuated by his rowdy and triumphant performance at Folsom prison. Without a doubt, the film hits all the high points of Johnny’s rise to fame as well as his relationship with June and how she helped him through the dark times when no one else would.

Phoenix and Witherspoon’s singing chops are spectacular in Walk the Line. In fact, everything about Walk the Line is spectacular. The chemistry between Phoenix and Witherspoon is the strongest chemistry I’ve seen between two leading actors in a long time. Not only that but no one else could have played Johnny and June, in my opinion. Phoenix captured the brooding and the innocence of Johnny in every scene and he carried the film well on his shoulders. It is a shame he didn’t recieve an Academy Award for his performance.

However, Witherspoon’s Oscar win for June was well deserved. While Phoenix carried the film, Witherspoon made the film funny and as June, she gave Walk the Line a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the darkness Johnny and the audience goes through in the movie.

James Mangold, the director, presented the film as a bit of a montage, a string of vingnettes all tied together with musical performances that follow the arc of Johnny’s rise to fame. While the performances often echo the arc and don’t disrupt the flow of the plot, they could be a little jarring sometimes. Not only that but Ginnifer Goodwin, who played Johnny’s first wife, is given a woeful amount of screen time but she certainly gives it her all.

Mangold was sure to put the spotlight on the musical performances which did lead to an overall strength to the film but besides the music and the performances, I sometimes felt that the film was just too slow moving. The songs offered a nice reprieve but something should have been done to pare the film down a little.

Either way, Walk the Line is a nice look at one of country music’s biggest and most influential artists.

Shelby Arnold
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