2005 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

With romance in its veins, a swagger in its step and a pair of career-best performances at its heart, Walk The Line is a mighty fine screen biography of country music legend Johnny Cash. As the 'Man In Black', Joaquin Phoenix strikes a perfect chord opposite the Oscar-winning Reese Witherspoon as his lifelong love, June Carter. Even more remarkably, those are the actors' vocals on the soundtrack - no lip-synching here, y'all.

Director

  • James Mangold

Cast

  • Joaquin Phoenix

  • Reese Witherspoon

  • Ginnifer Goodwin

Review

Anyone who saw the Oscar-winning Ray could be forgiven for thinking that all American musicians follow the same path to greatness. The similarities between Ray Charles' story and that of Johnny Cash are impossible to ignore.

Childhood poverty. The tragic death of a sibling. Marriage at a tender age. Early success, life on tour, women, booze, drugs... Marital strife, jail, a fall from grace... Rejection, rehabilitation, redemption...

Familiar ground, then, but thanks to the entrancing love story at its core, this ode to the 'Man In Black' trumps the overblown Ray in almost every respect.

Not that anyone would deny Jamie Foxx his Best Actor Oscar, but Phoenix perfectly captures the brooding soul of Cash without any physical quirks (like blindness) with which to jazz up his role.

It is also to Reese Witherspoon's immense credit that she matches his act with her tough-yet-tender portrayal of Cash's sassy soulmate June, who was an established C&W star long before Johnny picked up a guitar.

The Cash and Carter tale begins with Johnny's rise to fame at the birth of rock 'n' roll, his gravelly country-and-western style sitting comfortably on playbills alongside the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Elvis.

But the fact that June was always with him led suspicious minds to assume that they were making sweet music off-stage as well as on it. And yet it was June's refusal to get physical with Johnny that led him into a hard-drinking, pill-popping abyss.

Real lives are messy and have many loose ends, but more could have been made of Cash's strained relationship with his disapproving father (Robert Patrick), as could his decision to record a live show at the notorious Folsom Prison.

As one record exec says: "They don't wanna hear you singin' to a bunch of murderers and rapists, just to cheer 'em up." A fair point, but Cash was a man in touch with his dark side - and the album left The Beatles for dust.

Music made his name but June was his life, their connection being summed up by the fact that she wrote one of his biggest hits: 'Ring Of Fire'. And like their all-American love story, this highly accomplished movie hits all the right notes.

Elliott Noble