Walk the Line
Walk the Line is a 2005 American biographical drama romance musical film directed by James Mangold. The screenplay, written by Mangold and Gill Dennis, is based on two autobiographies authored by singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, 1975's Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and 1997's Cash: The Autobiography. The film follows Cash's early life, his romance with June Carter, and his ascent to the country music scene. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash, Reese Witherspoon as Carter, Ginnifer Goodwin as Cash's first wife Vivian Liberto, and Robert Patrick as Cash's father.
|Walk the Line|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||James Mangold|
|Produced by||James Keach|
|Screenplay by||Gill Dennis|
|Based on||Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and Cash: The Autobiography|
by Johnny Cash
|Music by||T Bone Burnett|
|Edited by||Michael McCusker|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$186.4 million|
Walk the Line previewed at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2005, and went into wide release on November 18. The film was nominated for five Oscars at the 78th Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Phoenix), Best Actress (Witherspoon, which she won), and Best Costume Design (Arianne Phillips). The film grossed more than $186 million worldwide.
In 1944, Johnny, then known as J.R., is raised on a cotton farm in Dyess, Arkansas with his brother Jack, father Ray, and mother Carrie. J.R. is known for his singing of hymns, while his brother Jack trains himself to become a pastor. While Jack is sawing wood for a neighbor with a table saw, J.R. goes fishing until he is spotted and reprimanded by his father for wandering off. Both J.R. and Ray return home to see Jack dying after being severely injured by the saw in an accident. In 1950, J.R. enlists in the Air Force as Johnny Cash, and is stationed in West Germany. He purchases a guitar, and in 1952, finds solace in writing songs, one of which he develops as "Folsom Prison Blues".
After his discharge, Cash returns to the United States and marries his girlfriend, Vivian Liberto. The couple moves to Memphis, Tennessee, where Cash works as a door-to-door salesman to support his growing family. He walks past a recording studio, which inspires him to organize a band to play gospel music. Cash's band auditions for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. After they play "Folsom Prison Blues", the band receives a contract, and launch to stardom at the beginning of the rock and roll era.
The band begins touring as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. On tour, Johnny meets June Carter, with whom he falls in love. Cash begins spending more time with June, who divorces her first husband, Carl Smith. After his attempt to woo June fails, Cash starts abusing drugs and alcohol. After his behavior reaches a bottom during a performance with June, they separate.
Later, over Vivian's objections, Johnny persuades June to come out of semi-retirement, and tour with him. The tour is a success, but backstage, Vivian becomes critical of June's influence. After one performance in Las Vegas, Johnny and June sleep together. The next morning, she notices Johnny taking pills, and doubts her choices. At that evening's concert, Johnny, upset by June's apparent rejection, behaves erratically, and eventually passes out on stage. June disposes of Johnny's drugs, and begins to write "Ring of Fire", describing her feelings for him and her pain at watching him descend into addiction.
Returning to California, Cash travels to Mexico to purchase more drugs, and is arrested. Cash's marriage to Vivian implodes; the pair divorce and Cash moves to Nashville in 1966. Trying to reconcile with June, Johnny purchases a large house near a lake in Hendersonville. His parents and the extended Carter family arrive for Thanksgiving, at which time Ray dismisses his son's achievements and behavior. After the meal, June's mother encourages her daughter to help Cash. He goes into detox and wakes with June; she says they have been given a second chance. Though not married, the two begin spending most of their time with each other.
Cash discovers that most of his fan mail is from prisoners, who are impressed with his outlaw image. He proposes to Columbia Records that he will record an album live inside Folsom Prison. Despite Columbia's doubts, Cash says that he will perform, and his label can use the tapes if they wish. At the Folsom Prison concert, Cash says that he has been sympathetic to prisoners, explaining that his arrest for drug possession helped him to relate to them. With this success, Cash embarks on a tour with June and his band. On the bus, he stops to talk with June and proposes to her, but she turns him down. At the next concert, June says she will only speak with him on stage. Cash later performs "Ring of Fire" on stage. After the song, Cash invites June to a duet and stops in the middle, saying he cannot sing "Jackson" any more unless June agrees to marry him. June accepts and they share a passionate embrace on stage.
- Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash
- Reese Witherspoon as June Carter
- Ginnifer Goodwin as Vivian Cash
- Robert Patrick as Ray Cash
- Dallas Roberts as Sam Phillips
- Dan John Miller as Luther Perkins
- Larry Bagby as Marshall Grant
- Shelby Lynne as Carrie Cash
- Tyler Hilton as Elvis Presley
- Waylon Payne as Jerry Lee Lewis
- Shooter Jennings as Waylon Jennings
- Sandra Ellis Lafferty as Maybelle Carter
- Dan Beene as Ezra Carter
- Clay Steakley as W.S. "Fluke" Holland
- Johnathan Rice as Roy Orbison
- Johnny Holiday as Carl Perkins
Development and pre-productionEdit
The film has its origins in a 1993 episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. That year, Cash was a guest star on the show, where he and June Carter became friends with Jane Seymour, the star of the show, and Seymour's husband James Keach who was directing the episode. By the mid-1990s, Cash had asked Keach to make a film of his life; he and Seymour began the process with a series of interviews. In 1997, the interviews had been the basis of a screenplay written by Gill Dennis, with input from Keach; two years later, still lacking any studio interest, Keach contacted James Mangold, who had been "angling to become involved in the project for two years." Mangold and his wife, producer Cathy Konrad, developed the script for Sony, and by 2001, they had a script they thought they could pitch to a studio. Sony and others turned it down, but Fox 2000 agreed to make the film.
The film was in part based on two autobiographies, both of which were optioned: Man in Black (1975) and Cash: The Autobiography (1997), though the film "burrows deep into painful territory that Mr. Cash barely explored."
Phoenix met Cash months before hearing about the film. When Phoenix read the script, he felt there were at least ten other actors who would be better in the role. All of Cash's vocal tracks in the film and on the accompanying soundtrack are played and sung by Phoenix. To prepare for her role as June Carter, Witherspoon studied videos of the singer; she also listened to her singing and telling stories to get her voice right.
Walk the Line was released on November 18, 2005, in 2,961 theaters, grossing $22.3 million on its opening weekend. It went on to earn $119.5 million in North America and $66.9 million in the rest of the world for a total of $186.4 million, well above its $28 million budget, making it a box office success. It was the all-time highest grossing music biopic until Straight Outta Compton surpassed it in 2015.
Critics generally responded with positive reviews, garnering an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. The two lead performances received rave reviews, particularly Witherspoon's, whose performance is described by critics as her best work to date. Roger Ebert praised Witherspoon for her "boundless energy" and predicted her to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. 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".
Some critics found the film too constrained by Hollywood plot formulas of love and loss, ignoring the last twenty years of Cash's life and other more socio-politically controversial reasons he was considered "the man in black".
Rosanne Cash was critical of the film. She was upset "because it had the three most damaging events of [her] childhood: [her] parent's divorce, [her] father's drug addiction, and something else bad that [she] can't remember now". Furthermore, she said, "The movie was painful. The three of them [in the film] were not recognizable to me as my parents in any way. But the scenes were recognizable, 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".
|1. Best Actress in a Leading Role (Reese Witherspoon)|
|Golden Globe Awards|
|1. Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy|
|2. Best Actor in a Leading Role – Musical or Comedy (Joaquin Phoenix)|
|3. Best Actress in a Leading Role – Musical or Comedy (Reese Witherspoon)|
|1. Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon)|
|2. Best Sound|
- BAFTA Award as Best Actress
- Broadcast Film Critic Award as Best Actress
- Golden Globe Award as Best Actress – Musical or Comedy
- National Society of Film Critics Award as Best Actress
- Online Film Critics Society award as Best Actress
- Satellite Award as Best Actress – Musical or Comedy
- Screen Actors Guild Award as Best Actress
Film critic Andrew Sarris ranked Walk the Line number seven 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. David Ansen of Newsweek ranked Witherspoon as one of the five best actresses of 2005.
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 France, Sweden and the UK in the form of its extended cut. The American Blu-ray features the shorter theatrical cut.
Wind-up Records released the soundtrack in November 2005. It featured nine songs performed by Joaquin Phoenix, four songs by Reese Witherspoon, two songs by Tyler Hilton, and one song each by Waylon Payne, Johnathan Rice, and Shooter Jennings. The album received a Grammy at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for Motion Pictures, Television or Other Visual Media.
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