Walk the Line (2005)
At the 78th Academy Awards, host Jon Stewart joked that Walk the Line was a remake of the previous year’s biopic Ray but with white people, and it’s true there are many similarities between the two stories. Both men are traumatised by the early death of a brother, both were pioneers in the music industry and both became addicted to drugs. More importantly both films are buoyed by magnificent performances by the lead actors and, just as noteworthy, the actresses portraying the women in their lives.
Somewhat predictably, Walk the Line opens with the standard biopic trope of a performer reflecting on his life before taking the stage for a significant performance. In this case it’s Johnny Cash’s concert at Folsom Prison that precedes a flashback to a childhood marred by a dominating father. A stint in the army sees him escape the conflict at home, after which he soon marries and becomes a father himself. Yet his dreams of becoming a singer-songwriter trigger a fresh set of domestic conflicts, made all the worse when his dreams are realised. Long stretches on tour, a growing addiction to pills and the temptation of adoring fans all take their toll on his marriage… and then there is his infatuation with fellow singer June Carter.
Reese Witherspoon won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the unwitting other woman who eventually succumbs to, if not Johnny Cash’s charms, then at least his persistence. In this role Joaquin Phoenix provides a depiction of the singer that may not mesh with the public’s memory of “the man in black” but nevertheless remains a hypnotic depiction of a deeply troubled character. Both leads also supply their own vocals for the renditions of the Cash’s catalogue which are joyfully showcased by executive music producer T-Bone Burnett.
Walk the Line’s adherence to the formula followed by Ray saw the film become the chief target of the following year’s biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (“The wrong son died!”). Nevertheless, both films remain superior examples of their genre.
as Johnny Cash
as June Carter
as Elvis Presley
as Jerry Lee Lewis
Though Johnny Cash did kick out the stage lights while performing, it occurred at the Grand Ole Opry, not Las Vegas.
Johnny Cash’s brother did die from injuries suffered from a table saw, he lived for about a week after the accident, not a few hours.