Walk the Line


Warning: Contains spoilers

Walk the Line was released in 2005 and stars Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. The film tells the story of country singer Johnny Cash from his life as a kid in Arkansas to his rise to fame recording his first record at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Joaquin Phoenix channels Johnny Cash really well in my opinion and Reese Witherspoon’s performance of June Carter is great as well. The film is basically a biography of Johnny Cash, but can also be categorized as a Drama and Romance.

The film starts off in 1968 at a prison (which we later learn is Folsom Prison) and we see Johnny Cash for a brief moment looking at a table saw while inmates can be heard cheering in the background and then the scene switches to 1944. We see Johnny (known as J.R. back then) as a child growing up on a cotton farm in Arkansas and he has an older brother named Jack. The two brothers are really close. One day J.R. goes fishing while Jack saws wood. Jack ends up injuring himself on the table saw and later dies from the injuries. Johnny and his father are not very close and their relationship becomes even more strained after Jack’s death. His father, Ray, exclaims that the wrong child died.

Fast forward to 1950 and Johnny enlists in the U.S. Air Force and is stationed in Germany. We learn that when he gets back to the U.S. he plans to marry Vivian Liberto (played by Ginnifer Goodwin). Also, while in Germany, Johnny starts to write a song, which will later become “Folsom Prison Blues”. Once Johnny is discharged he does marry Vivian and the two of them move to Memphis, TN. It’s 1955 and we see that Johnny and Vivian have a baby. Johnny works as a door-to-door salesman which proves unsuccessful. Cash and two friends of his form a band and eventually audition for Sam Phillips at Sun Studios. The band obtains a contract with Sun Studios, the same studio where Elvis Presley first recorded music.

The band Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two begin to tour and while on tour Johnny meets other singers, including June Carter. June is married to singer Carl Smith and Johnny is still with Vivian. The two spend time together and sparks ignite. June divorces Carl Smith and Johnny tries to make advances causing June to feel somewhat uncomfortable because of Johnny still being married and her divorce from Carl being real tough. Johnny begins to take drugs and alcohol. However, later on, Johnny convinces June to go on tour with him.

It’s 1965 and we Johnny and June performing “Jackson” on The Johnny Cash Show in Las Vegas.  Johnny and June end up sleeping together. The next morning June catches Johnny taking pills and she begins to question her choices and she begins to shut him out. This causes Johnny to delve even deeper into drugs and alcohol. Johnny loses it during a performance forgetting the lyrics to “I Got Stripes” and he ends up passing out. Later, we see June begin to write the song “Ring of Fire” to describe how she feels about Johnny. Johnny is in Mexico to buy drugs and is later caught and arrested. Johnny doesn’t serve any jail time and he returns to Vivian and his children. Vivian and Johnny end up getting a divorce. Johnny moves to Nashville with Waylon Jennings in 1966. Johnny, wanting to reconcile with June, buys a house in Hendersonville. During Thanksgiving, Johnny’s children he had with Vivian, Johnny’s parents and June and her parents come over. June and her family witness the strained relationship between Johnny and his father. Johnny, in an attempt to prove he is worthy to his father, goes outside and tries to get a tractor that was stuck in the mud out (his father had made a remark about the tractor). His family leaves and June and her family begin to leave until June’s mother, who can notice how June feels about Johnny, tells her to go down and help him. June, with the help of her family, help detox Johnny from his drug and alcohol habit. June tells Johnny that he has been given a second chance. They continue to spend more time together.

Later, Johnny begins to read some fan mail and realizes that a lot of them come from prisons, most notably Folsom Prison. Johnny convinces his record company to let him make a live record at Folsom Prison. The brief scene we saw at the beginning of the film we see again. Johnny, his band, and June perform at Folsom and it is a hit. It’s 1968 and while on a tour bus, Johnny asks June to marry him. She gets mad at him, telling him she is tired and not to propose to a girl on a bus. They arrive in Canada to perform a concert. While singing the song “Jackson” Johnny interrupts the song saying he can’t perform the song anymore because it would be like they were lying (because of the lyric in the song that says: “We got married in a fever…”) He asks June to marry him again. She says yes. The film ends with them at his house in Hendersonville and his family and her family and all their kids.

The marriage proposal scene is one of my favorite scenes. I love how Johnny picks June up and twirls her around and you see everyone in the audience cheering. It’s a beautiful scene. I don’t really have anything bad to say about this film. The acting is great, the costume design, and even the musical score is great. Joaquin and Reese did a great job singing. Joaquin sounds pretty close to how Johnny actually sounded like; Reese sings great, but doesn’t really sound quite like the real June Carter. Reese won an Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal as June and Joaquin was nominated for Best Actor. He didn’t win, but I think he should have. He did however win a Golden Globe for his performance.

There are some inaccuracies in the film. I only know about the few that I’ve read about; I don’t really know much about Johnny Cash’s life, although I do like his music. The portrayal of Vivian didn’t sit well with Rosanne Cash and Kathleen Cash (daughters of Vivian and Johnny). I don’t know how their other two daughters felt about the film, but Rosanne and Kathleen were the most outspoken when the film was released. John Carter Cash, son of Johnny and June, was executive producer for the film. After the criticism from his half-sisters, he understood where they were coming from, but that the point of the film was to tell his parent’s love story.

Overall, it is a great film and one that I don’t mind watching all the time. It is kind of long, about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Even if you don’t like country music, I still highly recommend it.