Walk the Line

Last updated
Walk the Line
Walk the line poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by James Mangold
Produced by James Keach
Cathy Konrad
Screenplay 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
Music by T Bone Burnett
Cinematography Phedon Papamichael
Edited by Michael McCusker
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
Running time
136 minutes
(theatrical cut)
153 minutes
(extended cut)
CountryUnited States
Budget$28 million [1]
Box office$187 million

Walk the Line is a 2005 American biographical musical romantic drama film directed by James Mangold. The screenplay, written by Mangold and Gill Dennis, is based on two autobiographies authored by singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, 1975's Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and 1997's Cash: The Autobiography . The film follows Cash's early life, his romance with June Carter, and his ascent in the country music scene. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash, Reese Witherspoon as Carter, Ginnifer Goodwin as Cash's first wife Vivian Liberto, and Robert Patrick as Cash's father.


Walk the Line premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on September 4, 2005, and was theatrically released by 20th Century Fox on November 18. The film received positive reviews and grossed $187 million on a $28 million budget. It received five nominations at the 78th Academy Awards: Best Actress (for Witherspoon, which she won), Best Actor (for Phoenix), Best Sound, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing.


In 1968, as an audience of inmates at Folsom State Prison cheer for Johnny Cash, he waits backstage near a table saw, reminding him of his early life.

In 1944, 12-year-old Johnny is raised on a cotton farm in Dyess, Arkansas, with his brother Jack, father Ray, and mother Carrie. One day, Jack is killed in a sawmill accident while Johnny is out fishing; Ray blames Johnny for Jack’s death, saying that the Devil “took the wrong son”.

In 1950, Johnny enlists in the U.S. Air Force and is stationed in West Germany. He purchases a guitar, 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 Memphis, Tennessee, where Cash works as a door-to-door salesman to support his growing family. He walks past a recording studio, which inspires him to organize a band to play gospel music. Cash's band auditions for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. Phillips signs them after they play "Folsom Prison Blues", and the band begins touring as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two, alongside fellow rising stars Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

On tour, Johnny meets June Carter, with whom he falls in love. They become friends, but June gently rebuffs his attempts to woo her. As Johnny’s fame grows, he starts abusing drugs and alcohol.

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

Returning to California, Johnny travels to Mexico to purchase more drugs and is arrested. Johnny’s marriage to Vivian implodes; they divorce and he moves to Nashville in 1966. Trying to reconcile with June, Johnny purchases a large house near a lake in Hendersonville. His parents and the extended Carter family arrive for Thanksgiving, at which time Ray and an intoxicated Johnny get into a bitter argument. 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. They begin a tentative relationship, but June rebuffs his marriage proposals.

Johnny discovers that most of his fan mail is from prisoners. He proposes to skeptical Columbia Records executives that he will record an album live inside Folsom Prison. The performance is a success, and Johnny embarks on a tour with June and his band. He later performs "Ring of Fire" on stage. After the song, Cash invites June 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. Johnny and his father reconcile their relationship.


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 Phoenix read the script, he felt there were at least ten other actors who would be better in the role. [3] All of Cash's vocal tracks in the film and on the accompanying soundtrack are played and sung by Phoenix. [4] To prepare for her role as June Carter, Witherspoon studied videos of the singer; she also listened to her singing and telling stories to get her voice right. [5]


Box office

Walk the Line was released on November 18, 2005, in 2,961 theaters, grossing $22.3 million on its opening weekend behind Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire . 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. [6] It was the all-time highest grossing music biopic until Straight Outta Compton surpassed it in 2015.


Joaquin Phoenix-1325.jpg (cropped).jpg
Reese Witherspoon at TIFF 2014.jpg
Phoenix and Witherspoon were commended for their performances, with critics describing Witherspoon’s as her best work to date. Both actors earned nominations for Academy Awards, with Witherspoon winning.

Walk the Line has an approval rating of 82% on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 210 reviews and an average rating of 7.25/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Superior acting and authentic crooning capture the emotional subtleties of the legend of Johnny Cash with a freshness that is a pleasure to watch". [7] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 72 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". [8]

Roger Ebert praised Witherspoon for her "boundless energy" and predicted her to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. Regarding Phoenix, Ebert wrote "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". [9] [10] 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". [11]

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". [12] 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". [13]

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". [14] 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". [15] 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". [16] 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". [17]

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". [18]

Rosanne Cash was critical of the film. She was upset "because it had the three most damaging events of [her] childhood: [her] parent's divorce, [her] father's drug addiction, and something else bad that [she] can't remember now". 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". [19]


For his portrayal of Johnny Cash, Phoenix won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Additionally, he received nominations for the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, the Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role. For his involvement in the film's soundtrack, he won the Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media. [20] [21] [22]

For her portrayal of June Carter, Witherspoon won an Academy Award for Best Actress, a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, a BFCA Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress, a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress, an Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress, a Satellite Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture, and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role. [23] The film was nominated for Academy Awards in Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.

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. [24] Witherspoon was also voted Favorite Leading Lady at the 2006 People's Choice Awards. [25] David Ansen of Newsweek ranked Witherspoon as one of the five best actresses of 2005. [26]

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. [27] 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, Sweden and the UK 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 Motion Pictures, Television or Other Visual Media.

Related Research Articles

Reese Witherspoon American actress and producer

Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon is an American actress, producer, and entrepreneur. The recipient of various accolades, including an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, and a Primetime Emmy Award, she is one of the highest-paid actresses in the world as of 2019. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2006 and 2015, and Forbes listed her among the World's 100 Most Powerful Women in 2019.

Joaquin Phoenix American actor and producer

Joaquin Rafael Phoenix is an American actor, producer, and animal rights activist. He has often played dark and unconventional roles, receiving many accolades, including an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, a Grammy and two Golden Globe Awards. In 2020, he was ranked #12 on the list of the 25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century by The New York Times.

June Carter Cash American musician

June Carter Cash was a five-time Grammy award-winning American singer, songwriter, actress, dancer, comedian, and author who was a member of the Carter Family and the second wife of singer Johnny Cash. Prior to her marriage to Cash, she was professionally known as June Carter and occasionally was still credited as such after her marriage. She played guitar, banjo, harmonica, and autoharp, and acted in several films and television shows. Carter Cash won five Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

It Aint Me Babe 1964 song by Bob Dylan

"It Ain't Me Babe" is a song by Bob Dylan that originally appeared on his fourth album Another Side of Bob Dylan, which was released in 1964 by Columbia Records. According to music critic Oliver Trager, this song, along with others on the album, marked a departure for Dylan as he began to explore the possibilities of language and deeper levels of the human experience. Within a year of its release, the song was picked up as a single by folk rock act the Turtles and country artist Johnny Cash.

James Mangold American film director, screenwriter

James Mangold is an American film and television director, screenwriter and producer. He is best known for the films Cop Land (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), Walk the Line (2005), The Wolverine (2013) and Logan (2017), the last of which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. He then directed and produced the sports drama film Ford v Ferrari (2019), which earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

James Keach is an American actor and filmmaker. He is the younger brother of actor Stacy Keach Jr. and son of actor Stacy Keach Sr.

I Walk the Line

"I Walk the Line" is a song written and recorded in 1956 by Johnny Cash. After three attempts with moderate chart ratings, it became Cash's first #1 hit on the Billboard charts, eventually reaching #17 on the US pop charts.

The 10th Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, given by the Florida Film Critics Circle on 24 December 2005, honored the best in film for 2005.

The 26th Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, honoring the best in filmmaking in 2005, were given on 11 December 2005. This year's awards are dedicated to the memory of Robin Dougherty, a former Boston Phoenix film critic who died this summer.

<i>Walk the Line</i> (soundtrack) 2005 soundtrack album by Various Artists

Walk the Line: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the soundtrack album to the 2005 biographical drama film of the same name released November 15, 2005 by Wind-Up Records. There are nine songs performed by Joaquin Phoenix, four songs by Reese Witherspoon, one song by Waylon Payne, one song by Johnathan Rice, two songs by Tyler Hilton, and one song by Shooter Jennings. At the Golden Globe Awards Joaquin Phoenix was awarded the Best Actor – Comedy or Musical and Reese Witherspoon was awarded the Best Actress – Comedy or Musical, as well as the film won the Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon were also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Actress, which Witherspoon won.

Jackson (song) Song recorded by Wheeler

"Jackson" is a song written in 1963 by Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Leiber and first recorded by Wheeler. It is best known from two 1967 releases: a pop hit single by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, which reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 39 Easy Listening, and a country hit single by Johnny Cash and June Carter, which reached number two on the Billboard Country Singles chart and has become more appreciated by non-country audiences in recent years as a result of Cash's continued popularity and its use in the 2011 film The Help.

Waylon Malloy Payne is an American country singer, songwriter, musician and actor. He is the son of the country singer Sammi Smith.

Billy Edward "Edd" Wheeler is an American songwriter, performer, writer, and visual artist.

Johnny Cash American singer, songwriter, and musician

John R. Cash was an American singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. Much of Cash's music contained themes of sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption, especially in the later stages of his career. He was known for his deep, calm bass-baritone voice, the distinctive sound of his Tennessee Three backing band characterized by train-like chugging guitar rhythms, a rebelliousness coupled with an increasingly somber and humble demeanor, free prison concerts, and a trademark all-black stage wardrobe which earned him the nickname "The Man in Black".

"I Walk the Line", a 1956 song written by Johnny Cash

Joaquin Phoenix filmography

Joaquin Phoenix is an American actor who started his career performing as a child on television. He appeared on the shows Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982) and Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia (1984) with his brother River Phoenix and on an episode of Murder, She Wrote (1984) with his sister Summer Phoenix. He made his feature film debut in SpaceCamp (1986) and had his first starring role in Russkies (1987). His first major film release was Ron Howard's dramedy Parenthood (1989) with Steve Martin. During his period as a child actor, he was credited as Leaf Phoenix, his self-given name. Six years later, he changed his name back to Joaquin and co-starred opposite Nicole Kidman in the Gus Van Sant-directed crime comedy-drama To Die For (1995), a critical hit. In 1997, Phoenix co-starred in Oliver Stone's crime thriller U Turn opposite Sean Penn and starred opposite Liv Tyler in the coming-of-age film Inventing the Abbotts. Phoenix starred in the crime-comedy film Clay Pigeons (1998), Return to Paradise (1998) followed by a role in the crime mystery thriller 8mm (1999) with Nicolas Cage. Phoenix's first role in 2000 was in his first collaboration with director James Gray in the crime film The Yards. He followed this with supporting roles in the Ridley Scott-directed historical epic Gladiator opposite Russell Crowe and as priest Abbé de Coulmier in the Philip Kaufman-directed period film Quills (2000), opposite Geoffrey Rush. For his role as the villain Commodus in the former, Phoenix earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

<i>Wild</i> (2014 film) 2014 film by Jean-Marc Vallée

Wild is a 2014 American biographical adventure drama film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. Nick Hornby's screenplay is based on Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The film stars Reese Witherspoon as Strayed alongside Laura Dern, with Thomas Sadoski, Michiel Huisman and Gaby Hoffmann in supporting roles. Strayed's story is about her determination to complete the Pacific Crest Trail by hiking and backpacking after numerous problems left her life in shambles.

Reese Witherspoon filmography Wikipedia list article

Reese Witherspoon is an American actress and producer. She made her acting debut in The Man in the Moon (1991). Witherspoon rose to prominence in 1999 with Cruel Intentions and for her portrayal of Tracy Flick in the black comedy Election, which earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical nomination. She was in the movie- Return to Lonesome Dove sequel to the 1993 miniseries. She achieved notoriety for her work on romantic comedies with her role as Elle Woods in the comedy Legally Blonde (2001) and its 2003 sequel, as well as her starring role in Sweet Home Alabama (2002). She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of June Carter Cash in the 2005 biographical musical film Walk the Line. She also received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the 2014 drama Wild.


  1. "Walk the Line (2005)". Boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved 2012-04-14.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Waxman, Sharon (October 16, 2005). "The Secrets That Lie Beyond the Ring of Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-02-10.
  3. "Joaquin Phoenix Talks About 'Walk the Line'" . Retrieved November 17, 2011.
  4. "Finding the voice, spirit of Johnny Cash". CNN . Retrieved July 8, 2018.
  5. "Reese Witherspoon Talks About 'Walk the Line'" . Retrieved November 17, 2011.
  6. "Walk the Line". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  7. https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/walk_the_line
  8. https://www.metacritic.com/movie/walk-the-line
  9. Ebert, Roger (November 18, 2005). "Walk the Line". Chicago Sun-Times . Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  10. Ebert, Roger (February 18, 2006). "Ebert's Oscar Predictions (2006)". Chicago Sun-Times . Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  11. Chocano, Carina (November 18, 2005). "Walk the Line". Los Angeles Times . Archived from the original on 2008-06-16. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  12. Scott, A. O. (November 18, 2005). "The Man in Black, on Stage and Off". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  13. Corliss, Richard (November 18, 2005). "A Phoenix in the Ring of Fire". Time. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  14. Sarris, Andrew (January 8, 2006). "Funny, Fiftysomething Pierce Returns as The Matador". The New York Observer . Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  15. Gleiberman, Owen (November 16, 2005). "Walk the Line". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  16. Sragow, Michael (November 18, 2005). "A Walk to see and remember". Baltimore Sun.
  17. Kermode, Mark (February 2006). "Walk the Line". Sight and Sound. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  18. Harsin, Jayson. "Walking the Fine Line". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved 2021-01-24.
  19. Garfield, Simon (February 5, 2006). "Family ties". The Guardian . Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  20. "Oscars 2006 – Academy Award Winners, Nominees, Movies Released in 2005". Movies.about.com. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  21. "Joaquin Phoenix". Golden Globes . Retrieved June 16, 2017.
  22. "20 People You Won't Believe Have Grammys". Rolling Stone . Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  23. "The 78th Academy Awards (2006) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-11-20.
  24. Sarris, Andrew (January 5, 2006). "Who and What I Liked in 2005: Viggo, Violence, Reese, 2046". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on December 8, 2007. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  25. "People's Choice Awards". Movie City News. Archived from the original on 2007-08-14. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  26. Ansen, David (December 19, 2005). "The Five Best Actresses". Newsweek. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  27. "Walk the Line (2005)". MovieWeb. Retrieved 2015-04-09.