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Walk the Line

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Title: Walk the Line  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 10th Satellite Awards, List of awards and nominations received by Joaquin Phoenix, 78th Academy Awards, 2005 in film, Michael McCusker
Collection: 2000S Drama Films, 2005 Films, 20Th Century Fox Films, American Biographical Films, American Drama Films, American Films, Best Musical or Comedy Picture Golden Globe Winners, Biographical Films About Musicians, Country Music Films, English-Language Films, Films About Drugs, Films Based on Biographies, Films Directed by James Mangold, Films Featuring a Best Actress Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Musical or Comedy Actor Golden Globe Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Musical or Comedy Actress Golden Globe Winning Performance, Films Set in Arkansas, Films Set in California, Films Set in Memphis, Tennessee, Films Set in Tennessee, Films Set in the 1940S, Films Set in the 1950S, Films Set in the 1960S, Films Set in the 1970S, Johnny Cash, Musical Films Based on Actual Events, Nonlinear Narrative Films
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Walk the Line

Walk the Line
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Mangold
Produced by James Keach
Cathy Konrad
Written by Gill Dennis
James Mangold
Based on Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and Cash: The Autobiography 
by Johnny Cash
Starring Joaquin Phoenix
Reese Witherspoon
Ginnifer Goodwin
Robert Patrick
Dallas Roberts
Music by T Bone Burnett
Cinematography Phedon Papamichael
Edited by Michael McCusker
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
Running time
136 minutes
(theatrical cut)
153 minutes
(extended cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $28 million
Box office $186.4 million

Walk the Line is a 2005 American biographical drama film directed by James Mangold and based on the early life and career of country music artist Johnny Cash. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Robert Patrick.

The film focuses on Cash's early life, his romance with June Carter, and his ascent to the country music scene, as based on his autobiographies. The screenplay was written by Mangold and Gill Dennis. The film's production budget is estimated to have been US$28 million.[1]

Walk the Line previewed at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2005, and went into wide release on November 18. The film was nominated for five Oscars at the 78th Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Phoenix), Best Actress (Witherspoon, which she won), and Best Costume Design (Arianne Phillips). The film grossed more than $186 million worldwide.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Development and pre-production 3
  • Release 4
    • Box office 4.1
    • Reception 4.2
    • Accolades 4.3
  • Home media 5
  • Soundtrack 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The film opens in 1968, as an audience of inmates at Folsom State Prison cheer for Johnny Cash's band as he waits backstage near a table saw, reminding him of his early life.

In 1944, Johnny, then known as J.R., grows up the son of a sharecropper on a cotton farm in Dyess, Arkansas. He is known for his singing of hymns, while his brother Jack is training himself to become a pastor. While Jack is sawing wood for a neighbor with a table saw, J.R. goes fishing until his brother finishes. But Jack has an accident with the saw and dies of his injuries. Cash's strained relationship with his father Ray, becomes much more difficult after Jack's death. In 1950, J.R. enlists in the United States Air Force as Johnny Cash, and is stationed in Germany. He purchases a guitar to play and in 1952, finds solace in writing songs, one of which he develops as "Folsom Prison Blues".

After his discharge, Cash returns to the United States and marries his girlfriend Vivian Liberto. The couple moves to gospel music. Cash's band auditions for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. After they play "Folsom Prison Blues", the band receives a contract.

The band begins touring as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. On tour he meets the singer June Carter, with whom he falls in love. Cash begins spending more time with June, who divorces her first husband Carl Smith. After his attempt to woo June fails, Cash starts abusing drugs and alcohol. After his behavior reaches a bottom during a performance with June, they separate.

Later, over Vivian's objections, Johnny persuades June to come out of semi-retirement and tour with him. The tour is a success, but backstage, Vivian becomes critical of June's influence. After one performance in Las Vegas, Cash and June sleep together. The next morning, she notices Cash taking pills and doubts her choices. At that evening's concert, Cash, upset by Carter's apparent rejection, behaves erratically and eventually passes out on stage. June disposes of Cash's drugs and begins to write "Ring of Fire", describing her feelings for Cash and her pain at watching him descend into addiction.

Returning to California, Cash travels to Mexico to purchase more drugs and is arrested. Cash's marriage to Vivian crumbles; the pair divorce and Cash moves to Nashville in 1966. Trying to reconcile with June, he buys a large house near a lake in Hendersonville. His parents and the extended Carter family arrive for Thanksgiving, at which time Ray dismisses his son's achievements and behavior. After the meal, June's mother encourages her daughter to help Cash. He goes into detox and wakes with June; she says they have been given a second chance. Though not married, the two begin spending most of their time with each other.

Cash discovers that most of his fan mail is from prisoners, who are impressed with his outlaw image. He proposes to Columbia Records that he record an album live inside Folsom Prison. Despite Columbia's doubts, Cash says that he will perform, and his label can use the tapes if they wish. At the Folsom Prison concert, Cash says that he has been sympathetic to prisoners, explaining that his arrest for drug possession helped him to relate to them. With this success, Cash embarks on a tour with June and his band. On the bus, he stops to talk with June and proposes to her, but she turns him down. At the next concert, June says she will only speak with him on stage. Cash invites her to a duet and stops in the middle, saying he cannot sing "Jackson" any more unless June agrees to marry him. June accepts and they share a passionate embrace on stage.


Development and pre-production

The film has its origins in a 1993 episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.,[2] That year, Cash was a guest star on the show, where he and June Carter became friends with Jane Seymour, the star of the show, and Seymour's husband James Keach who was directing the episode. By the mid-1990s, Cash had asked Keach to make a film of his life; he and Seymour began the process with a series of interviews.[2] In 1997, the interviews had been the basis of a screenplay written by Gill Dennis, with input from Keach; two years later, still lacking any studio interest, Keach contacted James Mangold, who had been "angling to become involved in the project for two years."[2] Mangold and his wife, producer Cathy Konrad, developed the script for Sony, and by 2001, they had a script they thought they could pitch to a studio. Sony and others turned it down, but Fox 2000 agreed to make the film.[2]

The film was in part based on two autobiographies, both of which were optioned: Man in Black (1975) and Cash: The Autobiography (1997), though the film "burrows deep into painful territory that Mr. Cash barely explored."[2]

Phoenix met Cash months before hearing about the film. When he read the script, he felt there were at least 10 other actors who would be better in the role.[3] To prepare for her role as June Carter, Witherspoon watched several videos of the singer; she also listened to her singing and telling stories to get her voice right.[4]


Box office

Walk the Line was released on November 18, 2005, in 2,961 theaters, grossing $22.3 million on its opening weekend. It went on to earn $119.5 million in North America and $66.9 million in the rest of the world for a total of $186.4 million, well above its $28 million budget, making it a box office success.[5] It was the all-time highest grossing music biopic until Straight Outta Compton surprassed it in 2015.


Critics generally responded with positive reviews, garnering an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. The two lead performances received rave reviews, and Phoenix's performance inspired film critic Roger Ebert to write, "Knowing Johnny Cash's albums more or less by heart, I closed my eyes to focus on the soundtrack and decided that, yes, that was the voice of Johnny Cash I was listening to. The closing credits make it clear it's Joaquin Phoenix doing the singing, and I was gob-smacked".[6] In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Carina Chocano wrote, "Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon do first-rate work — they sing, they twang, they play new-to-them instruments, they crackle with wit and charisma, and they give off so much sexual heat it's a wonder they don't burst into flames".[7]

A. O. Scott, in his review for The New York Times, had problems with Phoenix's performance: "Even though his singing voice doesn't match the original - how could it? - he is most convincing in concert, when his shoulders tighten and he cocks his head to one side. Otherwise, he seems stuck in the kind of off-the-rack psychological straitjacket in which Hollywood likes to confine troubled geniuses".[8] In his review for Time, Richard Corliss wrote, "A lot of credit for Phoenix's performance has to go to Mangold, who has always been good at finding the bleak melodrama in taciturn souls ... If Mangold's new movie has a problem, it's that he and co-screenwriter Gill Dennis sometimes walk the lines of the inspirational biography too rigorously".[9]

Andrew Sarris, in his review for The New York Observer praised Witherspoon for her "spine-tingling feistiness", and wrote, "This feat has belatedly placed it (in my mind, at least) among a mere handful of more-than-Oscar-worthy performances this year".[10] Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B+" rating and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "while Witherspoon, a fine singer herself, makes Carter immensely likable, a fountain of warmth and cheer, given how sweetly she meshes with Phoenix her romantic reticence isn't really filled in".[11] Baltimore Sun reviewer Michael Sragow wrote, "What Phoenix and Witherspoon accomplish in this movie is transcendent. They act with every bone and inch of flesh and facial plane, and each tone and waver of their voice. They do their own singing with a startling mastery of country music's narrative musicianship".[12] In his review for Sight and Sound, Mark Kermode wrote, "Standing ovations, too, for Witherspoon, who has perhaps the tougher task of lending depth and darkness to the role of June, whose frighteningly chipper stage act - a musical-comedy hybrid - constantly courts (but never marries) mockery".[13]

Some critics found the film too constrained by Hollywood plot formulas of love and loss, ignoring the last twenty years of Cash's life and other more socio-politically controversial reasons he was considered "the man in black".[14]

Rosanne Cash was quite critical of the film. She saw a rough edit and described the experience like "having a root canal without anaesthetic". Her half-brother John Carter Cash was instrumental in having the filmmakers remove two scenes that were not flattering to her mother. Furthermore, she said, "The movie was painful. The three of them [in the film] were not recognizable to me as my parents in any way. But the scenes were recognizable, and the storyline, so the whole thing was fraught with sadness because they all had just died, and I had this resistance to seeing the screen version of my childhood".[15]


Academy Awards
1. Best Actress in a Leading Role (Reese Witherspoon)
Golden Globe Awards
1. Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
2. Best Actor in a Leading Role – Musical or Comedy (Joaquin Phoenix)
3. Best Actress in a Leading Role – Musical or Comedy (Reese Witherspoon)
BAFTA Awards
1. Best Actress (Reese Witherspoon)
2. Best Sound

Witherspoon's performance was repeatedly recognized, including an Academy Award for Best Actress[16] and other awards such as:

Film critic Andrew Sarris ranked Walk the Line number seven in top films of 2005 and cited Reese Witherspoon as the best female performance of the year.[17] Witherspoon was also voted Favorite Leading Lady at the 2006 People's Choice Awards.[18] David Ansen of Newsweek ranked Witherspoon as one of the five best actresses of 2005.[19]

Home media

On February 28, 2006, a single-disc DVD and a two-disc collector edition DVD were released; these editions sold three million copies on their first day of release.[20] On March 25, 2008, a two-disc 'extended cut' DVD was released for region one. The feature on disc one is 17 minutes longer than the theatrical release, and disc two features eight extended musical sequences with introductions and documentaries about the making of the film. The film has been released on Blu-ray Disc in France and Sweden in the form of its extended cut. The American Blu-ray features the shorter theatrical cut.


Wind-up Records released the soundtrack in November 2005. It featured nine songs performed by Joaquin Phoenix, four songs by Reese Witherspoon, two songs by Tyler Hilton, and one song each by Waylon Payne, Johnathan Rice, and Shooter Jennings. The album received a Grammy at the 49th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.


  1. ^ "Walk the Line (2005)". Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  2. ^ a b c d e  
  3. ^ "'"Joaquin Phoenix Talks About 'Walk the Line. Retrieved November 17, 2011. 
  4. ^ "'"Reese Witherspoon Talks About 'Walk the Line. Retrieved November 17, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Walk the Line". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 18, 2005). "Walk the Line".  
  7. ^ Chocano, Carina (November 18, 2005). "Walk the Line".  
  8. ^ Scott, A. O. (November 18, 2005). "The Man in Black, on Stage and Off". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  9. ^ Corliss, Richard (November 18, 2005). "A Phoenix in the Ring of Fire". Time. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  10. ^ Sarris, Andrew (January 8, 2006). "The Matador"Funny, Fiftysomething Pierce Returns as .  
  11. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (November 16, 2005). "Walk the Line". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  12. ^ Sragow, Michael (November 18, 2005). "A Walk to see and remember". Baltimore Sun. 
  13. ^ Kermode, Mark (February 2006). "Walk the Line". Sight and Sound. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  14. ^ Harsin, Jayson. "Walking the Fine Line". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved 2012-04-14. 
  15. ^ Garfield, Simon (February 5, 2006). "Family ties".  
  16. ^ "The 78th Academy Awards (2006) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  17. ^ Sarris, Andrew (January 5, 2006). "Who and What I Liked in 2005: Viggo, Violence, Reese, 2046". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  18. ^ "People's Choice Awards". Movie City News. Archived from the original on 2010-10-22. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  19. ^ Ansen, David (December 19, 2005). "The Five Best Actresses". Newsweek. Retrieved 2009-01-27. 
  20. ^ "Walk the Line (2005)". MovieWeb. Retrieved 2015-04-09. 

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