If you’re making a movie about a man this loved, you best not miss it. I feel that this was on the minds of everyone who was making this masterpiece. Walk the Line is a movie about one of the greatest singers who ever lived, Mr. Johnny Cash. It’s based on two autobiographies authored by the man himself: Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and Cash: The Autobiography. Directed by James Mangold, who you might know as the guy behind Cop Land, Identity, and 3:10 to Yuma, and with a running time of 2 hours and 16 minutes, you might think that this movie would have some pacing issues, but that is not the case.
Since the whole movie is based on books that Johnny wrote, you get this special and honest insight into his life. You start realizing that his story is the story of humanity and all of us. Smooth and tight, Walk the Line is a respectable and entertaining homage to Mr. Cash. If you compare it to other biopics, you can clearly see and feel it’s not a commercial but an honest effort. We follow J. R. Cash from his childhood in Kingsland, Arkansas, through his first efforts to prove that he was a talented singer to finally his glory days.
I guess the biggest question is why you should watch this movie if you don’t like country music, biopics, or anything like that. Well, Walk the Line is a captivating character study featuring an excellent script, great storytelling, and an even better cast. It works well as a movie about two ordinary people who found themselves in an extraordinary situation. So, you can also say it’s an inspiring movie that just might change your life. All of this is coming from a metalhead who did know a couple of his songs but gained a new appreciation of that genre through this movie.
I will skip the usual summary section as it doesn’t quite apply to biopics. It’s much more fun to just dive into Walk the Line without any prior knowledge as it’s a movie definitely worth watching. Joaquin Phoenix was fucking phenomenal as Johnny Cash. And Reese Witherspoon proved once and for all that she’s not “legally blonde” but a very talented and skilled actress. Did you know that both of them learned how to play the guitar and autoharp just for this movie? Phoenix and Witherspoon also performed all the songs you hear in Walk the Line. Now that’s a feat worthy of admiration.
Their chemistry onscreen was palpable and they were feeding off each other constantly. The relationship between Johnny and June was a tumultuous one. But it wasn’t any different than any other relationship “ordinary people” have.
The movie was never sappy or melodramatic, which was my biggest fear before playing it. I mean, I feared that it would be sappy or melodramatic just to be clear. I found it so strange that Johnny’s journey feels so similar to the journey any of us are on currently. Starting from the dead-end job and that fire he felt he had to get out of him. Over to substance abuse and perspective. Many of us will identify with his uncompromising authenticity and the still undecided will perhaps reevaluate their attitude towards life.
Director: James Mangold
Writers: Johnny Cash, Gill Dennis, James Mangold
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick
Fun Stuff: Walk the Line was screened for the inmates at the Folsom prison, the same prison where Johnny Cash recorded his hit album 35 years prior.