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20th Century Fox presents
Walk the Line (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) (2005)

Warden: Mr. Cash, why don't you refrain from performing any tunes that remind the inmates they're in prison?
Johnny: You think they forgot?

- James Keach, Joaquin Phoenix

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: June 15, 2006

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick
Other Stars: Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Mallory Payne, Shooter Jennings, Sandra Ellis Lafferty, Lucas Till
Director: James Mangold

Manufacturer: Deluxe
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency
Run Time: 02h:15m:44s
Release Date: February 28, 2006
UPC: 024543235545
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

When doing a biopic, there's a fine line to walk between a candy-colored hagiography that glosses over the faults, and an obsession with the faults that makes the subject out to be far worse than they really are. Both of those are a danger when dealing with someone like Johnny Cash, who is both a beloved icon of American music and also a man who at times allowed himself to descend into a haze of addiction to pills and booze. Director/co-writer James Mangold deftly combines the two personae in telling the tale of Cash's early career, propelled by some magnificent performances. Cash's earthy and heartfelt music doesn't hurt either.

The period covered is roughly 25 years, from the tragic death of Cash's brother Jack (Lucas Till) and the resulting fury of his father Ray (Robert Patrick), up to the triumphant year of 1968, when Cash revived a career that had dissolved through his own self-destructiveness. Along the way, Johnny (played as an adult by Joaquin Phoenix) writes his first songs, marries sweetheart Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), and tentatively auditions for Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) and his Sun Records label. The thread of Johnny's career as it rises, collapses, and is ultimately reborn, phoenix-like, is paralleled by the story of his blossoming love for June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), their ten-year dance of affection, devotion, and desperation. It's a tempestuous relationship that works both dramatically and emotionally, while not being nearly as simple as Johnny thinks it is (or at least would like it to be).

The lead performances are justifiably celebrated, with Phoenix scoring an Oscar nomination and Witherspoon snagging the Best Actress Award for her turn as June. Phoenix captures Cash's smoldering intensity marvelously, believably giving a portrayal of a man who is both driven to succeed and to destroy himself. On a few occasions, when he's playing Cash as drug-addled, he gets a wild look in his eyes that makes one fear he's about to careen off the rails into Jim Carrey territory, but he stops just short of that. One sequence in particular stands out: the audition with Sam Phillips, as he slowly starts off Folsom Prison Blues with a halting high baritone, slowly gaining confidence as the song progresses forward and almost developing into the growling bass legend by the third verse. It's kind of hokey, but Phoenix completely sells it with his nervous glances to his bewildered sidemen, Luther Perkins (Dan John Miller) and bassist Marshall Grant (Larry Bagby). Witherspoon plays off him incredibly well, and they have an electric chemistry together (especially in their several, and very different, renditions of Jackson). She nicely captures the mouthy charm of June Carter, with all the sass and sauciness intact while still caring deeply about Johnny and at the same time terrified at what he's letting himself become.

Equally important are the supporting characters. Robert Patrick is magnificent as Ray Cash, the disapproving father who blames young John for Jack's death, and who is never willing to give his approval no matter how successful his son becomes. But he is willing to take a perverse glee in Johnny's descent into addiction and bankruptcy, remaining unwilling to offer a hand. The relationship has some pop psychology aspects to it, especially in its reliance on survivor's guilt, but it's realistically complex in its depth. Patrick matches Phoenix intensity for intensity, and their climactic confrontation over a tense Thanksgiving dinner is downright brutal in its dynamics. Ginnifer Goodwin is reasonably good as Cash's first wife, Vivian, though most of the scenes that allow her to give Vivian a well-rounded character ended up on the cutting-room floor (but they can still be seen in the deleted scenes section).

The cast, in a gutsy move, does their own singing rather than lip-synching to Cash and Carter. Given the distinctive quality of the subjects' voices, that should have been cause for apprehension, but they actually put enough into the vocalizing that even though it's not a replication it works well. Phoenix really captures Cash's rumble on Ring of Fire, of all things. Witherspoon doesn't begin to have the big sound of June Carter's voice, but she carries the sharp character of it in her intonation, and that's certainly good enough. The music is nicely used, with the concert footage tying into montages that move the story forward and comment on the developing relationship between Johnny and June, among other matters. It's a finely crafted picture that does justice to its subjects, taking a hard look while still being sympathetic and having a strong emotional center.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen transfer is excellent, with plenty of detail and shadow detail, and nicely delineated colors. Artifacting is nominal at most and never distracting; even complex visuals such as empty seats in theaters come across with clean sharpness. The cinematography is frequently gorgeous, especially during the concert sequences, and its beauty comes across quite well. As one would expect for a new film, the source material is immaculate.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Both DD 5.1 and DTS English tracks are provided, though neither one has much of an impact except during the musical sequences. Those have a beautiful clarity, excellent range, and detail. Dialogue sequences are pretty center-oriented without much directionality. The ability to switch tracks on the fly is disabled, making it difficult to compare the DTS and DD tracks.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director James Mangold
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:07m:26s

Extra Extras:
  1. Three extended musical performances
Extras Review: Disc 1 (which is also available separately) brings with it a feature-length commentary by Mangold, and he does a serviceable job of bringing out details and discussing the genesis of the film, the difficulties of getting it made, and the issues related to getting the stars to credibly portray people who have been musicians their entire lives. Mangold says up front that he's not interested in dishing dirt, and he keeps to his word. He's nonetheless quite interesting in developing the background and pointing out subtle details (though he skips over one I noticed, of Luther Perkins falling asleep on the tour bus with a cigarette in his mouth; he would shortly thereafter die smoking in bed). Ten deleted scenes with an optional director's commentary round out several of the characters, most notably Vivian, who comes off much more supportive of Johnny in his musical efforts than she does in the finished film. They're certainly worthwhile.

Exclusively in the two-disc edition are the contents of, amazingly enough, the second disc. These start off with three full-length musical performances only excerpted in the film: Rock and Roll Ruby, Jacksonm and Cocaine Blues. They're all fine renditions that look great in anamorphic 2.35:1. A making-of documentary (21m:42s) doesn't really have all that much behind-the-scenes information, but tends to be more of an appreciation of Cash himself. Two featurettes look at the comeback at Folsom Prison (11m:47s), with interviews from prison officials and participating musicians (including several of the Statler Brothers), and at the relationship of Johnny and June (11m:29s). These latter two are more worthwhile, but there's an odd lack of Johnny Cash himself here: except for a few still photos, the presentation of Cash is almost entirely in the form of clips of Phoenix impersonating him. More content that actually focused on the subject of the biography would have been welcome, as would rather easy things to assemble, such as a Cash filmography and discography. Most people will be happy with the standard edition, but the two-disc version does have some merit for those who can't get enough.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A fine biopic that features terrific lead performances, brutal honesty, and some great music. The transfer and commentary are all first class, making this a winner of a set. Highly recommended.


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