Back when Walk The Line (2005) came out on DVD, my father immediately purchased the item. In my family, we are big Johnny Cash lovers, and the fact that we did not make an outing to the theater to see the film still has me in disbelief to this day. Before my parents had the chance to watch the feature, I popped the DVD in our DVD player and watched it with a friend of mine on one of many movie nights. Ever since that night, I always watch bits and pieces of the film whenever the movie is on one of the movie channels.
Walk the Line is by far one of the best biopics out there. Few biopics manage to capture the human essence and soul the way Walk the Line happened. Many people wondered how Joaquin Phoenix landed the role of Cash, but that becomes quite clear after viewing the film. Some people wondered the same about Witherspoon as June Carter. The nay-sayers were proven wrong by the outstanding performances the actors gave within the film.
The fact of the matter is audiences take a ride through Johnny Cash’s life. His many ups and downs. His battle with pills and booze. He was a man who was determined not to give up on his dreams despite those around him urging him to get a real job. Cash’s story presents a man destined to become a singer and how Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) managed to show the world the real Johnny Cash. By coaxing the truth of out Cash, the music world gained a true star, and fans gained what we consider to be a story of a lifetime with moments sprinkled in that appear larger than life.
The very basic synopsis of Walk the Line would be someone telling viewers that the film is about Johnny Cash’s life. Cash (Phoenix) grew up in the Great Depression era, an era in American history that treated no one well. He takes up an interest in music at a young age, much to his father’s disapproval. Eventually, we learn that Cash moved out of his hometown to join the air force. Being shipped to Germany only managed to encourage his musical ability, even more so somehow.
It was in Germany that Cash bought his very first guitar and found himself writing his music. Soon after that, audiences see him propose to his first wife, Vivien (Ginnifer Goodwin). Upon getting married after his time overseas, Cash found himself settling down in Tennessee with his wife and their first daughter. At first, he knew no matter how much he desired, his music would not be what supported his family. Instead of merely giving up on his dream, Cash found himself practicing with a group of guys while helping his family by being a salesman.
As he meets Sam Phillips, Phillips takes pity on him and encourages him to reach down where other artists have not. He encourages Cash to do something else with his music career other than being another gospel singer lost and forgotten about in the sea of gospel singers. As Cash comes into his own, Phillips gets him and his band a job on a short tour where he meets the one and only June Carter (Witherspoon).
When the tours grew longer, the friendship between the two slowly grows into something more. Cash’s drug addiction prompts June to leave the tour until he can regain composure, and his marriage slowly begins to dissolve. To gain back what he knows can be his, he must hit rock bottom and realize everything he can potentially lose first.
In terms of acting, Walk the Line is one of the finest acted films in cinematic history. Some people probably think this is a bold statement to make, but this is the truth of the matter. First and foremost, I will start by talking about Phoenix. Phoenix portrays Cash like no other man would have been able to for this feature from the look to the voice. The fact that he fooled people who are long-time Cash fans into thinking that they had used a soundtrack to accomplish such a feat. Phoenix put in the time and truly learned the essence of Cash and managed to bring such performance to the film world.
Then there is the acting of Miss Witherspoon. Witherspoon captured every nuance of June Carter. She worked to understand her onstage persona. June was a goofy angel of the south, though people tended to judge her far harsher because of her family namesake. She also shows everyone that she is not going to take crap off of anyone. Man, woman, no one! My favorite part is when June finds herself throwing beer bottles at all the men as they lounge around on stage as if they have nothing important to do. June is the one that makes sure everyone stays in his or her place, but she also proves that she is not the woman to mess with even in a so-called man’s world.
Other performances within the film stand out: Robert Patrick as Cash’s father, Roberts as Sam Phillips, and Waylon Payne as Jerry Lee Lewis. Patrick has a way of getting under even the viewers’ skin as much as he does Johnny’s, which is an accomplishment for any actor or actress. Roberts does a great job at tackling the legendary record producer and shows the soft demeanor and the hard-ass one that we all love about his portrayal.
Last but not least, there is Payne. One of my favorite parts of the film is where Lewis is insisting that June is an angel. This moment is after, of course, telling everyone riding in the car they are going to hell. Despite a lack of appearance of Payne in the film, he has moments that steal the show. With a great supporting cast and lead cast alike, Walk the Line deserves the high praise many critics were willing to dish out.
Overall, Walk the Line is a film about the man in black—a man named Johnny Cash. Walk the Line does not just speak of a man who struggled to get where he was at in life. The film tells of a man who managed to get back on his feet again through the love of a woman that inspired Heidi Newfield’s song “Johnny and June.” In many ways, Walk the Line provides audiences not only an insight into the singer that we all knew and loved but of the true man behind that singer.
Johnny Cash was not perfect; in truth, he was far from perfect, which is okay at the end of the day. His imperfections are what people loved about him; these are the various traits that June loved about him enough to save him. Audiences wanted to see more because we all love Cash that much. And considering the film was slightly over two hours long, that says a lot about him as a person. We all wanted to see this man that seemed larger than life in so many ways. We all wanted to know about the woman he loved so much that only months after her death, he passed away as well.
Most people feel that fans want to know these things about their favorite artists because we are nosy. In truth, audiences wanted to know these various aspects of Cash’s life because he was real, and at the end of the day, we want to be able to relate to someone who is just as real and raw as we happen to be.