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Walk the Line is a 2005 American biographical drama film, directed by James Mangold and based on the life of country singer-songwriter Johnny Cash. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Robert Patrick.

The film focuses on Cash's younger life, his romance with June Carter, and his ascent to the country music scene, with material taken from his autobiographies. Walk the Line's production budget is estimated to have been US$28,000,000.

The film previewed at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2005, and went into wide release on November 18. This film was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Actor (Joaquin Phoenix), Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon) and Best Costume Design (Arianne Phillips). Witherspoon won the Oscar for Best Actress, the film's sole Oscar winner.

As of August 22, 2006, the film had grossed a total of $186,438,883 worldwide. 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 Francemarker and the United Kingdommarker, with a United Statesmarker Blu-Ray release is slated for early 2010.


The film details Johnny Cash's life from his growing up as the son of a cotton picker in Dyess, Arkansasmarker, dealing with the death of his brother, his drug addiction, subsequent rescue by future wife June Carter, and his famous concert at Folsom State Prisonmarker.

The film opens in medias res with an exterior shot of Folsom State Prisonmarker in 1968. An audience of inmates cheer for Johnny Cash's band, which is playing a vamp. Johnny Cash is sitting near a table saw, reminding him of his youth and particularly of the death of his brother.

In 1944, Johnny (then known as "J.R.") and his brother Jack are listening to a young June Carter on the radio. The brothers discuss their respective strengths and weaknesses with regard to the Bible and hymns. Jack, who is training to become a pastor, and therefore "needs to know the Bible front to back," is much better at recalling the words and stories of the Bible. J.R., who can sing well like his mother, is adept with the hymns they sing at church. Jack is sawing wood on a job for a neighbor with J.R. when J.R. leaves to go fishing. He is later taken home by his father, Ray, and they find out Jack has been fatally injured in an accident with the saw. J.R.'s relationship with his father, already strained, becomes much more difficult after Jack's death.

In 1952, J.R. joins the Air Force and is posted to Germanymarker. He seems not to enjoy his time there, but finds solace in playing a guitar he buys and writing songs - one of which will become "Folsom Prison Blues," inspired by a B-movie shown to the troops, Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison. Following his discharge, he marries his girlfriend Vivian Liberto. In 1955, Vivian and John (as he is now generally known) live in Memphis in relative poverty while John works as a door-to-door salesman to support his growing family (Cash's eldest daughter Rosanne is an infant, and Vivian mentions "another one on the way"). One day, he walks past a recording studio and has an inspiration to organize a band (made up of guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, whom his wife describes as "two mechanics who can't hardly play") to play gospel music.

Cash's band auditions for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. As they play a pedestrian gospel song ("I Was There When It Happened"), Phillips interrupts and asks Cash to play a song that he really feels. As a result, Cash and his band play "Folsom Prison Blues," and Phillips accepts it. The performance results in a contract, in fulfillment of which Cash begins touring in 1955 (as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two) with other young Sun artists. Among those he meets on the tour - along with Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley - is June Carter, who performs as both a singer and a comedian.

Cash's career expands, and he finds himself spending more time with June, who divorces her first husband, Carl Smith, at this time. Cash is offered drugs and alcohol after his romantic intentions backfire and soon begins to behave erratically. The erratic behavior peaks one night when Cash invites June on stage to sing a duet. Cash suggests a love song ("Time's A Wastin'") which June recorded with Smith. She feels uncomfortable performing it with Cash, but he ignores her protests and kisses her in the middle of the performance. She storms off the stage and they go their separate ways, despite Cash's protest that "it was only a song." Soon afterwards June tells him (and many of the other artists on the tour) that they can't "walk the line," prompting Cash to write "I Walk the Line".

In 1964, Cash (Ray tells him that he would do well to start "sleeping at night...or eating...or both") takes Vivian to an awards program which June also attends. Despite his wife's objections to the level of interest he is paying her, Cash persuades June (who is divorcing her second husband, a stock car driver) to come out of semi-retirement and tour with him. The tour is a great success, but backstage, Vivian is critical of June's influence. After one Las Vegas performance in 1965, Cash and June sleep together in her hotel room. The next morning, as June is on the phone with one of her daughters, she notices Cash taking several pills and begins to doubt the wisdom of continuing the previous night's relationship. At that evening's concert, Cash, upset by Carter's apparent rejection, behaves erratically and eventually passes out. June disposes of Cash's drugs and begins to write "Ring of Fire", describing her feelings for Cash and her pain at watching him descend into addiction.

On his way home, Cash travels to Mexico to purchase more drugs and is arrested in El Paso, Texasmarker. Vivian is upset and the tensions in Cash's marriage rise when he tries to put up his band's pictures at their house despite her objection (especially over one of June). After a final violent dispute, the pair eventually separate and Cash moves to Nashville, where he shares living quarters with Waylon Jennings (played by Jennings' son Shooter) in 1966.

Cash attempts to reconcile with June, which involves a long walk to her house (his car is in the shop and he has no cash to reclaim it), but he collapses in the rain. Later, he sees a large house near a lake in Hendersonville, Tennesseemarker, and promptly buys it. His parents, and the extended Carter family (June, her daughters and her parents, Maybelle and Ezra) arrive for Thanksgiving, at which time Ray dismisses Cash's achievements and behavior, citing as an example of Cash's carelessness, an expensive tractor stuck in view of the house. After a tense meal, Cash decides to prove his father wrong by freeing the tractor. June and her family watch in concern as Cash struggles with the machine; June's mother, apparently aware of her daughter's true feelings toward Cash, encourages her to go help him, because "he's mixed up." June helps Cash when the tractor goes into the lake. After a long detoxification period, June sits with Cash. He wakes up and she gives him some fresh fruit. He then tells her that she's "an angel." June, however, admits that she's made mistakes as well. June then reveals that she, and God, have given Cash a second chance and he cleans himself up.

Cash notices in fan mail that many of his fans are prisoners, dresses in his customary black, visits his recording company (now Columbia Records) and makes a proposal to record an album live inside Folsom Prison. His record company is doubtful, arguing that the musical world has changed in the time Cash was rehabilitating, but he says bluntly that he will perform on a given date and the label can use the tapes if they think the music is any good.

While at Folsom Prison, the warden requests that Cash not play any more songs that would remind the inmates that they are in prison. Cash laughs wryly and replies, "You think they forgot?"

At the Folsom Prison concert Cash tells how he always admired prisoners, explaining that his brief prison stay after his drug bust really made him "feel like I'd seen a thing or two, you know?" But, he continues, he now realizes his experiences really can't compare because "I ain't never had to drink this yellow water you got here at Folsom!" Performing "Cocaine Blues" to great acclaim from the prisoners, the concert is a great success, and Cash embarks on a tour with June and his band.

While on a tour bus, Cash, disturbed by "bad dreams...memories," goes to see June in the back of the bus. (On his way he removes a cigarette from the mouth of a sleeping Luther Perkins, who in real life died around this time when his house caught fire; in his biography Cash said he believed Luther Perkins' house fire was caused by a cigarette.) Waking June at 2 AM, he proposes to her, but she turns him down. Cash tells her that that was the last time; June tersely replies, "Good." and that she doesn't like "re-runs." At the concert, June tells Cash that he is allowed to speak to her only on stage.

The concert, which is in Londonmarker, Ontariomarker, Canadamarker, features "Ring of Fire," for which Cash acknowledges June. He then persuades her to join him in a duet of "Jackson." In the middle of the song, Cash breaks off; June looks concerned. Cash explains that he "just can't sing this song any more" unless she agrees to marry him. June is reluctant to give an answer, but after Cash proposes to her, June accepts. At his house, Cash watches his father interact with his newest daughters Rosie and Carlene. He jokes with his father, their tense relationship having apparently begun to heal. Cash continues down the stairs to the pier, looking up, and meeting June's eyes where she is fishing with her father. They look at each other and a smile from Cash closes the film.


Actor Role
Joaquin Phoenix Johnny Cash
Reese Witherspoon June Carter Cash
Ginnifer Goodwin Vivian Cash
Robert Patrick Ray Cash
Dallas Roberts Sam Phillips
Dan John Miller Luther Perkins
Larry Bagby Marshall Grant
Shelby Lynne Carrie Cash
Tyler Hilton Elvis Presley
Waylon Payne Jerry Lee Lewis
Shooter Jennings Waylon Jennings
Sandra Ellis Lafferty Maybelle Carter
Dan Beene Ezra Carter
Clay Steakley W.S. "Fluke" Holland
Johnathan Rice Roy Orbison
Johnny Holiday Carl Perkins
Ridge Canipe Young Johnny Cash
Lucas Till Young Jack Cash
McGhee Monteith Reba Cash
Carly Nahon Young Reba Cash
Wyatt Entrekin Young Tommy Cash
Hailey Anne Nelson Rosanne Cash
Clare Grant Audrey Parks
Kerris Dorsey Kathleen "Kathy" Cash


Box office

Walk the Line was released on November 18, 2005 in 2,961 theaters, grossing USD $22.3 million on its opening weekend. The film went on to make $119.5 million in North America and $66.9 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $186.4 million, well above its $28 million budget.


Critics generally responded with positive reviews, garnering an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, almost exactly the same score received by Ray, a biopic about Ray Charles, to which the film is often compared. Walk the Line also received a 72 metascore from Metacritic.

Phoenix's performance inspired film critic Roger Ebert to write, "Knowing Johnny Cash's albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. The closing credits make it clear it's Joaquin Phoenix doing the singing, and I was gob-smacked". 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".

However, critics such as Jayson Harsin found the film to be too constrained by Hollywood plot formulas of love and loss, totally ignoring the last twenty years of Cash's life and other more socio-politically controversial reasons he was considered "the man in black." In addition, the Cashs' daughter, Rosanne Cash, was quite critical of the film. She saw a rough edit and described the experience like "having a root canal without anaesthetic" and was instrumental in having the filmmakers remove two scenes that were not flattering to her mother. Furthermore, she said, "The movie was painful. The three of them [in the film] were not recognisable to me as my parents in any way. But the scenes were recognisable, 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".

Film critic Andrew Sarris ranked Walk the Line #7 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. In addition, David Ansen of Newsweek ranked Witherspoon as one of the five best actresses of 2005.


Academy Awards record
1. Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon)
Golden Globe Awards record
1. Best Musical or Comedy Picture
2. Best M/C Actor (Joaquin Phoenix)
2. Best M/C Actress (Reese Witherspoon)
BAFTA Awards record
1. Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon)
2. Best Sound
Witherspoon's performance was repeatedly recognized, including an Academy Award for Best Actress and awards such as the following:

Source material


  1. Walk the Line (2005)
  2. Walk the Line Sells 3 Million it's First Day
  3. Ray - Movie Reviews, Trailers, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  4. Harsin, Jayson (2006) "Walking the Fine LIne," Bright Lights Film Journal, May.

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