Film of the Day: Walk the Line

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Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



12 September



Johnny Cash dies, 2003


On this day in 2003, Johnny Cash died, aged 71. A star from the mid-50s, after discharge from the army, until his death, the baritone Cash was known as a country singer though unlike many a country act he was a Christian who aligned himself with the sinners rather than the saints. Dressing in black rather than the more ostenatious garb favoured by country compadres, he was also unusual for the way he publically acknowledged the breadth of his taste – he made an album with Bob Dylan in the 1960s, his two-season TV show in the late 60s featured the likes of Joe Tex (soul), Neil Diamond (pop), Louis Armstrong (jazz), Joni Mitchell (folk) and the Staples Singers (gospel) alongside the more expected country names such as Tammi Wynette and Merle Haggard. Later he’d team up with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, sing with U2, cover Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus. His last hit before he died was a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt, the accompanying video a painfully honest acknowledgement of impending death. After the late-career renaissance masterminded by producer Rick Rubin, it made him popular all over again by concentrating on his real asset – his voice.


Walk the Line (2005, dir: James Mangold)

Biopics often flop about like a landed fish, gasping for a throughline. Not Walk the Line – it decides early on that it’s going to tell the story of Johnny Cash through the narrative of his romance with June Carter, and sticks to that decision, tucking all the biographical business – and Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis – round the edges. It has three other real pluses – Reese Witherspoon as the hyper-optimistic June Carter, Joaquin Phoenix as the man in black, and the input of T Bone Burnett as honcho in charge of music. In many ways similar to the previous year’s Ray, the biopic of Ray Charles, it paints its hero as a troubled individual with a dead brother choking up his conscience and a tendency to reach for drugs to celebrate the good times and to dull the bad. Jamie Foxx is probably a more convincing Ray Charles than Joaquin Phoenix is a Johnny Cash – Phoenix doesn’t have the baritone. What he does have is Cash’s mannerisms, his stance, the same cast of shoulder and his way of swinging the guitar behind his back. And let’s not forget that Phoenix is playing the complex Johnny Cash, a sinner in his own mind, a reprobate in some ways, but from some angles a man of a heroic cast who did what he did and wasn’t swayed by others. He walked the line.



Why Watch?


  • Reese Witherspoon coasting to an Oscar
  • A soundtrack full of little known country, gospel and blues gems
  • Is it Joaquin singing or is it Johnny?


© Steve Morrissey 2013



Walk the Line – at Amazon





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Walk the Line (2005) Biography, Drama, Music | 136min | 18 November 2005 (USA) 7.8
Director: James MangoldWriter: Johnny CashStars: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer GoodwinSummary: While growing up in the Great Depression era, Johnny Cash takes an interest in music and eventually moves out of his Arkansas town to join the air force in Germany. While there, he buys his first guitar and writes his own music, and proposes to Vivian. When they got married, they settled in Tennessee and with a daughter, he supported the family by being a salesman. He discovers a man who can pursue his dreams and ends up getting a record with the boys. Shortly after that, he was on a short tour, promoting his songs, and meets the already famous and beautiful June Carter. Then as they get on the long-term tours with June, the boys, and Jerry Lee Lewis, they have this unspoken relationship that grows. But when June leaves the tour because of his behavior, he was a drug addict. His marriage was also falling apart, and when he sees June years later at an awards show, he forces June to tour with them again, promising June to support her two kids and herself. While the tour goes on, the ... Written by kayleigh


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