Movie Review
Walk the Line
Walk the Line poster
By Scott Sycamore     Published October 15, 2005
US Release: November 18, 2005

Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix , Reese Witherspoon , Ginnifer Goodwin , Robert Patrick

Running Time: 135 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $119,518,352
All of this material might be a little more palatable if the production weren't so blandly straightforward.
Biopics are the hot shiznit right now. Everyone from Bobby Darin, to Truman Capote, to Ray Charles, to Edward R. Murrow has gotten the Hollywoodistic treatment in recent outings. So why not one about country music legend Johnny Cash? Cash passed away in 2003, and we already get this movie about him. "Ray" - unseen by me - came out very soon after Ray Charles died. It seems to me that there should be more of a grace period. In professional sports, a player cannot be enshrined in the Hall of Fame until at least five years after their retirement; shouldn't it be the same rule for all this biopickery? In the case of life stories, death is the retirement. Can't the movie studios let the public wait a minute and form their own opinions about the lives of influential people? Let folks have their fond memories of some iconic figure before they get rubber-stamped into a piece of cheeseball entertainment that doesn't leave much of an impression. These kinds of films stem from a sense of commercial "newness" more than anything else.

So here we have one about the Man in Black, John Cash. Cash gained a lot of notoriety and visibility in his way later years. He's apparently a big influence on folks like Quentin Tarantino (Cash appears on the mostly soul/funk-oriented soundtrack to "Jackie Brown"), and surely many others in showbiz as well. Cash also had a hit right before his death with a song called "Hurt," which was originally written and performed by Nine Inch Nails, of all people. But before all this, Johnny had a whole life of country singin' and bad relationships. This movie tackles the two main relationships and a pretty fair amount of singin'.

It's the story of Johnny and his two wives. The first wife was a young farm girl who Johnny married after he got out of the Air Force. He had a couple of kids with her at a young age and, I guess, didn't really think about the consequences when it came down to supporting his family. They lived in Memphis where Johnny made contact with Sam Phillips, the owner of the iconic Sun Records. Johnny auditioned for Sam and was signed to the label, which kick-started his decades-long music-career. After he nestled into the pop life, he met the lovely and talented June Carter, who he had been listening to on the radio since they were both children. He was of course instantly smitten, and spends most of the movie pining for June, disregarding the ball-and-chain of wife and children. As you can probably predict, this produced some very mixed results.

June strings Johnny along so extensively that I couldn't believe such a seemingly hardened man could put up with it; I thought that one of the points of becoming a superstar was not having to deal with head-games from women (or at least being able to forget about it and go have fun with groupies). The public image of Johnny Cash is a man who would probably smack a woman around without a second thought, and not a guy who gets rejected and cries about it.

All of this material might be a little more palatable if the production weren't so blandly straightforward. The whole thing is done in classic biopic/movie-of-the-week fashion. There's nothing that deviates from the norm in terms of storytelling or visual strategy. When the wife is yelling at the husband for not being home enough, do I really need to even pay attention? And do you think there will be a scene in which the main character breaks down and destroys a room because things just aren't going his way? These kinds of scenes are beyond cliche; they have been drilled into the consciousness of any casual movie-watcher out there. To have these scenes in yet another film is simply admitting that real ideas are nowhere to be found.

I liked some of the music, even though I'm hardly a country fan. These performances are the only things that inject any energy into the experience. The singing and playing is spot-on and sounds like professional work from that time period. But these scenes wear thin rather quickly. I was reminded of "That Thing You Do" (B-), where many people surely got tired of the title track by the time they heard the sixth rendition of it. The other thing about the music scenes in "Walk the Line" is that they don't feel connected to the story at all; they just seem to pop up randomly in order to pad the narrative. These parts are also shot in a very unimaginative fashion, mostly keeping right up close on Joaquin Phoenix's face. This is not the best method to employ when there are lights, backgrounds, and concert halls full of screaming fans. It's all just very stale.

This movie is done in an earnest fashion and actually makes you pretty sympathetic with Cash (given the lack of a substantive script). Sadly, this is hardly enough to recommend it to anybody but the most hardcore Cash fans. It's unlikely that the public will respond to this picture in any kind of meaningful fashion. If you're going to film the tale of a remarkable life, make sure it's a remarkable movie. Walk the Line is not.
Scott's Grade: C
Scott's Overall Grading: 417 graded movies
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'Walk the Line' Articles
  • Brandon's DVD review B
    April 3, 2008    If you've already bought the 2-disc collector's set and are happy with the features included, there is no need to buy this DVD. But if you love the Man in Black and all things Man in Blackish then this DVD is for you. -- Brandon McFall
  • Craig's review B-
    November 23, 2005    The bigger picture, such as Cash's legacy on music or what he meant to his fans, is surprisingly missing. -- Craig Younkin
  • Lee's review C
    October 15, 2005    A classic example of a made-for-TV bio-picture: Its demographic aim is very broad, and for anyone who knows the genre well, it is classic formula material. -- Lee Tistaert