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Joaquin Phoenix
Reese Witherspoon
Robert Patrick
Ginnifer Goodwin
Shelby Lynne
Dallas Roberts
Tyler Hilton
Waylon Payne.
James Mangold.
Gil Dennis
James Mangold.
Running Time
136 minutes

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Walk The Line
Joaquin Phoenix stars in this biopic of the man in black - the one, the only Johnny Cash.

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After escaping an Arkansas cotton farm, singer Johnny Cash (Phoenix) makes it all the way to Sun Records in Memphis, where he joins an illustrious roster that includes Elvis Presley. With a young family waiting back home, country-star-in-the-making Cash seems made — but will he throw it all away for two things he comes across while on the road: June Carter (Witherspoon) and drugs?

Walk The Line

Musicians sing songs of three minutes and live lives in three acts. They all struggle to crack the big time, they all succumb to the temptations of the road and practically everyone manages to clean up in time for one final hit. Little wonder that ever since Elvis died on the crapper, the heady mix of pop and problems has excited almost as many TV movies as broken homes and bowel cancer.

And yet it is the particular misfortune of James Mangold’s bubblegum biopic of country pioneer Johnny Cash to be released just 11 months after Taylor Hackford’s glossy Ray snaffled a clutch of Oscar nominations and every conceivable acting award for star Jamie Foxx. The similarities between the two stories are striking: from the social and political upheaval of the American South in the post War period, to the poor country boy haunted by guilt about the brother he lost, large chunks of the territory traversed here were mapped out by Ray. Like R’n’B innovator Ray Charles, Cash was a musical rebel determined to forge a new sound back when such things were possible, and just like Charles, the monumental Cash was very nearly undone by drugs.

Factor in the proximity and the superficial resemblance can become dazzling — expect critics to glibly cite this as yet another example of Hollywood’s herd mentality (see Volcano vs. Dante’s Peak etc.)

But hell, since we must be glib, the correct comparison is this: Walk The Line is the Deep Impact to Ray’s Armageddon. Where Hackford’s film was an overblown, emotional blockbuster precision-engineered for Oscar- (rather than box-office) glory, Mangold’s movie is a more composed affair, studiously focused on a slow-burning romance rather than straining to capture an entire life. As such, Walk The Line feels like a more rounded work; it may lack some of Ray’s pizzazz — heroin is a better villain than prescription speed — but it moves more smoothly and eventually arrives at a natural stopping place.

Interestingly, though, there is little to be made of the most obvious creative difference. Hackford’s decision to have Foxx, an accomplished singer, mime to the inimitable Ray Charles proved to be a sound decision, but Mangold’s riskier gamble — for the untested Phoenix and Witherspoon to provide all the vocals — also pays off handsomely. It is not so much that the pair’s impressive impressions would ever fool a discerning ear, it is that the high-wire thrills tendered by watching amateurs stretch themselves on film is not so far from the buzz of live performance.

Walk The Line’s greater reserve should endear it to any delicate palates who choked on Ray’s sentimental bluster, but in truth, both movies are fundamentally genre pictures elevated to a different league by two simple ingredients: a killer soundtrack and knockout performances.

For a life so chaotic and a star so singular, Mangold coughs up a structure so predictable it wouldn’t look out of place on the Hallmark Channel. Much like those unstoppable Cash rhythms the narrative remains on rails, ticking off major life events and chalking up star cameos (Elvis! A namecheck for Bob Dylan!) without ever really bringing the Man In Black into the light. Then again, perhaps it all depends on how black you like it: as a psychological study of the complex Cash, Walk The Line is perfectly pat; as a celebration of the romance between Cash and Carter, it is perfectly sweet.

The appeal of the central couple is a direct result of tireless work from the two leads. Phoenix makes hay with the rich soil he’s given to till, but if anyone suffers from close proximity to Ray, it is Phoenix. The broody actor is very good here — terrific, even — but, unlike Foxx, he is never astonishing.

Reese Witherspoon, though, comes mighty close. Witherspoon’s June is a pistol — a sugar-rush of screwball energy and cornball Southern sass that’s meticulously earthed with grace notes of sadness, hinting at the stolen childhood and broken marriages that all take place off screen. With a thin field likely confronting Witherspoon in March, this largely supporting role may well land the film its only major honours.

A routine genre picture that knows just the two basic chords (love/trouble), Walk The Line rarely aspires to the condition of art. But with material this catchy and stars this winning, Mangold’s movie will have your feet tapping to the beat and your heart occasionally skipping it — just like all good pop music should.

Reviewed by Colin Kennedy

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Walk The Line

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Average user rating for Walk The Line
Empire Star Rating

Powerful and Excellent!

This film is one of the best films made. Personal opinion. I've always been a huge fan of Cash's music and this film made me appreciate it even more. The film isn't so much as trying to capture or imitate Cash, but is, as such, trying to show us what made him who he is. Mangold was out of pot-luck with RAY being released earlier then this, but this is a much better film. Also, the singing is astonishing from Phoenix and Witherspoon. This is a great film and should be seen at any cost. A fan of C... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lostboys96 at 23:51, 02 February 2012 | Report This Post

Great Film. Two Thumbs Way Up!

Following the story of the great singer. This film is great and it is so surprisingly, fantastically acted by Joaquin. Reese also plays a great part. Equally great. Phoenix can just get into the Cash character. Whether he be Sad, Sorrow, Serious, Joking, Talkative, anything. The film can get you thinking at times. Like when your guessing if its Elvis or not when Johnny is talking to him above the stage looking over June singing. Or if you think that Cash and his father are going to have a fight ... More

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Posted by SlasherHorrorFan at 12:54, 11 July 2009 | Report This Post

Walk the Line

Amazing ... More

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Posted by Arcanine at 21:24, 26 March 2008 | Report This Post

The best film of 2005 by far, better than the puffy Brokeback Mountain. Any way this really does let your emotion's flow, and the film is sad. James Mangod has done a fine job in recreating Joaquine Phoenix into the shoe's of Johnny Cash. Mangold is realising another good film in Septemper called 3:10 to Yuma, which is a remake of the 50's version, so after the success of Walk the Line and when i heard he was directing 3:10 i was very happy because he will do it again. Make an iconic film like ... More

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Posted by Big Alex at 07:53, 09 August 2007 | Report This Post

Walk The Line

I know little about Cash and subsequently feel underqualified to comment on the accuracy of the story but as a film it is little better than average. Every character, bar the two leads, remain completely under developed and as for ticking the boxes in the story telling, consider them ticked. Phoenix is good but not great although his singing is superb. Witherspoon is better but unfortunately some of the most interesting and complex facets of Carters character (the divorce, single motherhood in t... More

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Posted by qualidad at 23:30, 01 July 2007 | Report This Post


I never knew how cool cash was until i saw this film. His voice is so rare. ... More

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Posted by elimonator at 14:04, 16 May 2007 | Report This Post

Walk The Line

I am a big fan of Cash, and thought that this was a good solid bio pic, not that it really told us too much about the legend himself, this seemed to work better as a romance. Showing the determination that Cash had to win over the gal he'd fancied for years. Phoenix was great, along with Witherspoon. I wouldve liked them to have gone a bit deeper into the soul and the pain of the man in black though. God bless Johnny Cash. ... More

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Posted by zombiewarehouse at 19:57, 12 March 2007 | Report This Post

Johnny Cash really Walks the Line

This film is film is really, really good. This Johnny Cash biopic made me a fan of the Man In Black whereas Ray bored me terribly. Phoenix although he doesnt sound like Cash is still exceptional proving just how much talent he has. However Reese Witherspoon steals the show as June Carter and is very cute and attractive in this film. Moving and interesting. A must see biopic. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by DrachirFilm at 18:49, 13 February 2007 | Report This Post

Passionately made and superbly played. A snapshot of Cash’s life that, like his songs, captures trauma and triumph. ... More

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Posted by moviemaniac2 at 14:04, 05 January 2007 | Report This Post

Great movie with excellent performances! Joaquin and Reese really suprised me. Both were amazing. The music was great aswell, bought the soundtrack strait away. ... More

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Posted by Sosh at 07:10, 15 July 2006 | Report This Post

Dissapointed after all the hype, but it was enjoyable enought. The soundtrack is probably the best thing about it other than Reese! ;-) ... More

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Posted by Bubba76 at 01:43, 04 June 2006 | Report This Post

The best film ever.

Brilliant in all ways. Althogh they skipped the last 30 sumthin years it was still the best film ive ever seen b4. Peace out. ... More

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Posted by Nerky at 17:14, 29 May 2006 | Report This Post

... More

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Posted by Beastie at 23:03, 28 May 2006 | Report This Post

Walk The Line

This is a routine biopic that pushes all the right buttons and covers all the usual bases-humble beginnings, childhood tragedy, drugs, music, redemption. In addition a thumping soundtrack adds real verve to this impressive project. Yet it is the central performances that lift this above its average, likeable peers. Reese Witherspoon sheds her box office sheen to add some real acting weight to her growing resume. Bursting with energy, emotion, empathy and with no lack of vocal talent, the l... More

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Posted by Eomer_King at 13:18, 28 May 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Ring of fire

Finally got to see this after months of waiting and waiting and I was so utterly disappointed. For me, it look and feel like a poorly executed TV movie. It had no style and no real substance, and felt empty and self-congratulatory.   It completely trivialised the real dark points in his life, reducing them to the simple equation of  Too much drugs + too much sex = emotional meltdown. It was impossible to feel any real kind of sympathy with Cash's character becuase he was so one-d... More

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Posted by tbird at 15:28, 29 March 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Ring of fire

"Borrowed" from "Uncut" magazine.   2 out of 5 stars Bland biopic sells the Man in Black short. In 1967, Johnny Cash was so far gone down the road to pill-popping oblivion, so mentally tortured, that he decided to crawl into Nickajack Cave on the Tennessee River, lie in the darkness and wait until death claimed him. Why any film would want to omit this incidentn from the dramatic portrayal of the Man in Black is anyone's guess, but e LineAs with so many of the recent spate of biopi... More

Posted by Mason Verger at 18:06, 21 March 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Ring of fire

I saw this earlier today and I thought it was very good indeed. I have some of the more well-known music by Johnny Cash, but couldn't really call myself a fan, and I knew about about his personal life. This film has made me want to go out and buy some more music and read the books it was based on.   2 great central performances, some superb music and am involving story. I really want to see this again. I loved the opening sequence, it really got me in the mood for the film. A... More

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Posted by Gimli The Dwarf at 22:20, 16 March 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Ring of fire

Finally got round to seeing this. An enjoyable, if formulaic, biopic raised above the average by two splendid lead performances and a great soundtrack. The story is told in a disappointingly predictable and straightforward fashion with little insight into what made Cash tick, but the whole thing motors along nicely without lapsing into sentimentality (making it miles better than the similar, but hugely overrated Ray) Witherspoon is excellent as the sassy June Carter, b... More

Posted by MOTH at 09:29, 16 March 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Ring of fire

L: katbirdnz This film is the most engaging and utterly enjoyable film I have seen in a long time. The music was joyous and the acting was top drawer, and it moved along at a fantastic pace, not dragging at all, I could have easily watched it for an extra hour. I'm not one for mushy stuff but I felt that it was a realistic love story that I believed in. It was also very funny in parts. Reese surprised me given her ditzy bimbo film history, I was not surprised that Joaquin did a wonde... More

Posted by Hotlips at 09:26, 14 March 2006 | Report This Post

RE: Ring of fire

This film is the most engaging and utterly enjoyable film I have seen in a long time. The music was joyous and the acting was top drawer, and it moved along at a fantastic pace, not dragging at all, I could have easily watched it for an extra hour.   I'm not one for mushy stuff but I felt that it was a realistic love story that I believed in. It was also very funny in parts. Reese surprised me given her ditzy bimbo film history, I was not surprised that Joaquin did a wonderful job as ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by katbirdnz at 22:57, 13 March 2006 | Report This Post

Ring of fire

was meant to write this review ages ago wen i saw it in february but i got lazy. i remember coming home on the train after seeing it feeling that feeling i always get when ive seen a great movie. and this was a great movie. it really is a love story when you look at it. this is what the director has mainly focused on, and hes done it so well. this is helped by the amazing acting.reese witherspoon was amzin and fully deserved her oscar. though i would have liked 2 have seen pheonix win the best ... More

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Posted by PhiLdO90 at 18:07, 13 March 2006 | Report This Post

Great to watch! The music is such a big thing in this movie and I think its fantastic they decided to let Reese and Joaquin sing it themselves. They are great! I would normally not like this kind of music, but now I bought the soundtrack! And their performances, Reese looks like she is a real singer on stage her whole live! They really give a good show. Ofcourse you'll hear their voices ain't, but for people who just practised a year, they're fantastic. Joaquin and Reese show they belong to one ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sylvester at 11:20, 13 March 2006 | Report This Post

RE: we got both kinds - country AND western

This film immediately became one of my all time favourite films!  It was just amazing.  Engaging and bittersweet and lovely all at the same time!  Joaquin and Reese were both mesmerising and outstanding esp Joaquin (contrary to the Empire review!) and I am completely gobsmacked this did not get best film/director nominations at the oscars!  Although I loved Jamie Foxx performance in Ray, in comparision Joaquin was much more thrilling to watch and the fact he sung all his own... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bamba at 21:51, 12 March 2006 | Report This Post

we got both kinds - country AND western

Some people hate country music before they've heard it. Certainly, I'm no fan of country, but Johnny Cash transcends music genres and had a style all his own. Unfortunately, the fact that is that a lot of people will be put off from seeing this this film, which is a shame, as it features some of the best performances I've seen for a long time. We all know that Phoenix can do angst in his sleep, yet his performance is multi-layered, giving us an idea how this man drew people to him, but could ... More

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Posted by davidjthomson at 11:14, 10 March 2006 | Report This Post


This is a great film, I didn't know a huge amount about Cash before watching this film so didn't know what to expect. What was provided is a triumph in film making. Witherspoon is fantastic and truely deserved the oscar she won. Pheonix was also excellent, I think he captured the spirit of Cash perfectly. What is most amazing is that both actors perform the songs using their own voices, it just proves what great performers they are. Go and see this film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by avfc999 at 08:33, 08 March 2006 | Report This Post

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