Wednesday 26th January 2022

Walk the Line (12A)
Directed by: James Mangold
Reviewed by: Paul Fonz

James Mangold isn't exactly A-list when it comes to directors, but he was responsible for a couple of good films in the late nineties (Cop Land and Girl, Interrupted) before his output went a bit downhill.

Cash himself chose Phoenix to play him on film
Cash himself chose Phoenix to play him on film

However, he has returned to form here with the life story of the late, great Johnny Cash which has already scooped a clutch of awards and five Oscar nominations.

The film opens in California, 1968, with Johnny, played superbly by Joachin Phoenix (Gladiator, The Village) waiting to go on stage at Fulsom Prison. As he prepares to go out and give the most memorable performance of his career, his thoughts drift back to 1944 and his childhood in Arkansas.

Little Johnny had a passion for music and singing from an early age, while his older brother Jack wanted to be a man of the cloth and knew his Bible from cover to cover. Unfortunately, Jack died in a childhood accident, traumatising Johnny and driving a wedge between him and his rage-fuelled father.

If you're thinking this biopic is already sounding similar to last year's Ray, I can tell you the similarity doesn't stop there. After a brief stint in the airforce, Johnny comes home to marry his sweetheart and live in Memphis as a door-to-door salesman. It's when he auditions for renowned record producer Sam Phillips that thinks really take off for Johnny.

Phillips motivates him at the audition by telling him to imagine he is lying in the road dying and has one song to sum up his whole life and the resulting performance secures the band a record deal and by 1956 Johnny and his band were touring with label-mates June Careter, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. It's Carter (Reese Witherspoon) that really captures Johnny's heart though, and after months of touring with her he becomes so "tired and emotional" that he turns to drugs. The result is that he manages to wreck most of his life before things start to come right for Johnny, leading up to the recording of his legendary live album "At Folsom Prison".

Walk the Line is engaging, interesting and ultimately uplifting stuff, but despite a truly praiseworthy performance from Phoenix, it is lacking a certain x-factor that would transform this film from good to great. Reese Witherspoon also gives a very good performance (both leads were trained by T-Bone Burnett for six months so they could sing their own songs) and looks likely to secure the Best Actress Oscar. At over two hours in length the film is a little too long, but it doesn't drag much and 136 minutes isn't long to sum up one man's life, especially when compared to the challenge of one song thrown down by Sam Phillips.

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Length: 136 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Official Site:
IMDB Link:
Release Date: 3rd February 2006

Top Five Rating: 70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0%70.0% (70.0%)
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