As it did in last years Ray, the biography of singer, Ray Charles, the tragic death of a young brother figures prominently in Walk the Line, the story of country music star, Johnny Cash. It is an incident that, in the film, continues to haunt Cash and, along with the painful realisation that he has an unloving father who blames him for that death, likely contributes to the almost obligatory introduction of drugs into his life, sending him on a path of self-destruction. The true focus of the film, however, is Cashs long-enduring love for June Carter, who finally helps rescue him from his downward spiral.
In outstanding performances - enhanced by the fact that both actors do their own singing - Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon dynamically bring the country couple to life in James Mangolds very entertaining film. Close your eyes and it will sound like the real thing you are hearing.
The film begins tracing Cashs life from the time he is 12 (and played by Ridge Canipe) through to the late 60s and his landmark concert in Folsom Prison. As a boy in Arkansas, life is not easy for Johnny who lives with his quick-tempered sharecropper father, Sam (Robert Patrick in a strong performance), mother, Carrie (Shelley Lynne) and brother, Jack (Lucas Till) to whom Johnny is obviously close. After Jack dies as the result of a circle-saw accident, things become worse for Johnny when a grieving Sam callously bemoans that the wrong son has been taken from him.
In 1952, Johnny (now played by Phoenix) is in the army and stationed in Germany where he begins writing his first songs. On his return, he marries his sweetheart, Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) and they live in Memphis where he starts up a band with two friends, guitarist, Luther Perkins(Dan John Miller) and bassist, Marshall Grant (Larry Bagby). Auditioning for Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts), who owns a small recording studio, the trio fails to impress until Johnny sings one of his own compositions and Sam sits up and takes notice. Soon Johnny and the band are on the road with other new kids on the block like Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne). Catching his eye - and very quickly his heart - is another performer, the effervescent June Carter (Witherspoon).
Circumstances - such as the fact that both are married - prevent Johnny from having the kind of relationship he would like to pursue with June. Even as those situations change, there are always other complications to keep them apart and as Johnnys fame grows, so does his dependence on drugs and alcohol, which begin to ruin his life, career, marriage and any chance of turning his friendship with June into something more. Despite this, she stands by him - both on stage as his singing partner and off, as the friend who helps him to fight the demons that are bringing him down. But she continues to refuse his offers of marriage - until he takes a very public opportunity to ask her one more time