Score : 94/100
Watchable Minutes: 120/136
Trailer Comparison : I don’t think I could find a more mid 2000’s movie trailer if I tried. That voice over and the cheesy transitions aren’t very representative of the actual movie. I’d have a tough time being interested if I didn’t like Johnny Cash or biopics.
Movie or Film : Biopics are always going to be movies for me. Their lives may be inspiring and teach a lesson, but they are never intentionally a work of art like a film.
- Run time : 2 hrs 16 minutes
- Studio : 20th Century Studios
- Director : James Mangold
- Where to Watch : HBO Max
Walk the Line chronicles the life of Johnny Cash beginning with his youth, which he spent on a poor cotton farm in Arkansas. After his time in the Korean War, Johnny starts a family of his own with hopes of making it big in the music industry. Betting it all on a last ditch effort to create a record, Johnny and his band release a hit album that sends them touring across the country with the likes of June Carter, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.
I’m not a big country music guy, but I cannot deny that Johnny Cash is one of the all time greats. The voice, the lyrics, and the persona he had all made him a musical icon (If you haven’t listened to his greatest hits, here is a playlist I put together of my favorite songs and Joaquin Phoenix’s covers). I respect the hell out of the artist that he was, but not so much the person. You have to keep in mind that this is based off Cash’s own autobiography so it might be a little warped one way or the other due to some dressing by the writers to make it a viable screenplay. When watching biopics, one inevitably ends up asking how historically accurate the movie is. To answer that question with respect to Walk the Line, I dug up an old AMA that his son, John Carter Cash , did on reddit back in 2015. While he didn’t explicitly give an answer explicitly, I got the vibe that he was pleased with it. If it was blatantly inaccurate, he would have said something about it. He actually said it was a pretty good love story, which I totally agree with. He also gave several anecdotes that cast a more positive light on the country music legend.
I hate to admit it, but I’m a sucker for a good love story. There’s just something about the ones that hit just right and Walk the Line definitely hits right. Cash’s life was certainly interesting enough on its own, but judging Walk the Line solely by what is on screen, I can say with certainty that it is a wonderful story. I was engaged for the entire run time and was both rooting for and appalled by Johnny’s actions throughout. The story felt crazy but in a way that was totally grounded when you compare it to modern music icons. You hear all the time about drugs and alcohol abuse in that industry and think it had to have started somewhere. I loved how the story didn’t make him out to be a saint and highlighted his mistakes over and over again rather than glorify his weak attempts at improving himself. I didn’t really like that Cash basically forced June Carter to marry him, but in the end it seemed to have worked out considering they were married for 35 years. When you’re adapting a movie from true story, you can’t change such a major detail like that so it gets a pass from me. I also found that at certain points it was just a tad too dramatic but that is my only other nitpick.
According to IMDb, Walk the Line won a single Oscar for best performance by an actress in a leading role as well as the Golden Globe for best picture in 2006. The singing country girl personality were masterfully done by Reese Witherspoon, and according to that AMA I mentioned above, it’s all thanks to the weeks she spent studying the Cash family. Everything about her performance was spectacular and she 100% earned that Oscar. As for Joaquin Phoenix and his portrayal of Johnny Cash, there’s not a single person that could have brought more to the role than he did. Their chemistry on screen was flawless and made me believe I was watching real life unfold. Two perfect casting choices for two very multidimensional people. The supporting cast does a great job matching Joaquin’s energy and perfectly encapsulates the type of support system a drug addled music star would have ahd around him in the 60s.
The direction by James Mangold was near perfect as well. I think that Mangold has a unique talent of taking high intensity emotional stories and putting them on screen with ease. His later works, particularly Logan and Ford v. Ferrari seem to benefit from this same type of direction. As far as editing and goes, there is one scene that I don’t particularly enjoy and that is the bomb scene where they blow up a tree limb for some reason. I get that they’re “good ol’ boys” and the scene was supposed to be Johnny’s introduction to hard drugs, but it could have been done some other way. Oh well, minor complaint and that’s really the only scene I didn’t like because it just didn’t fit in.
Moving on, the entire movie looked and sounded wonderful. The shots of Phoenix and Witherspoon on stage felt like I was at an actual concert. The music is obviously a highpoint because it was all Johnny Cash music plus a few extra songs here and there. What really sends this movie’s score into the 90s is the fact that both the leads spent considerable time learning how to sing and play their respective instruments and it really shows on the final product. I spend just as much time listening to their covers as I do the original songs. It’s not every day you can find a movie that features leads actors who aren’t dubbing or lip syncing but are actually singing and doing it very well. That type of care and hard work is what makes this movie a classic.
I can’t recommend Walk the Line enough. It is a great movie from start to finish with a fantastic love story and amazing actors. Even if you don’t like country music, there is something really special with this movie and it deserves your time to watch it.
If you like this, check out :
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- A Beautiful Mind
- The Founder