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James Mangold
Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Dallas Roberts, Dan John Miller, Larry Bagby, Shelby Lynne, Tyler Hilton
Writing Credits:
Johnny Cash (book, "The Man in Black"), Johnny Cash (book, "Cash: An Autobiography"), Patrick Carr (book, "Cash: An Autobiography"), Gill Dennis, James Mangold

Love is a burning thing.

Singer. Rebel. Outlaw. Hero. With his driving freight-train chords, steel-eyed intensity and a voice as dark as the night, the legendary Man in Black revolutionized musicand forged his legacy as a genuine American icon. Golden Globe winners Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon star (and sing) as Johnny Cash and June Carter in this inspiring true story of one mans unwavering devotion to his sound, his message and the greatest love of his life.

Box Office:
$29 million.
Opening Weekend
$22.347 million on 2961 screens.
Domestic Gross
$116.344 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 2.39:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 2/28/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director James Mangold
• 10 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
• Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Walk The Line (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 3, 2006)

In 2004, Ray looked at the life and career of a music pioneer whose career peaked in the Fifties and Sixties. In 2005, Walk the Line looked at the life and career of a music pioneer whose career peaked in the Fifties and Sixties. Both received similar attention from critics and the Oscar nominations, though Ray managed a Best Picture nod that eluded Line. At least Line could boast better box office returns, as it made $116 million as opposed to Ray’s $75 million.

Comparisons between the two films seem valid because they’re so similar in so many ways. It’s not just their subject matter that makes them appear alike. Both flicks take on their topics in nearly identical manners and often feel like companion pieces.

Line examines the ups and downs of seminal country star Johnny Cash. After a brief look at his famous Folsom Prison concert in 1968, the movie immediately leaps back to Cash’s childhood in Arkansas. Set in 1944, we meet young “JR” (Ridge Canipe) and his family. They include best pal/older brother Jack (Lucas Till) and abusive father Ray (Robert Patrick). They live a poor existence as cotton pickers and Jack does some work on the side. When he has an accident at a power saw, he soon dies.

From there the movie leaps ahead to 1953 and an adult John’s (Joaquin Phoenix) induction into the Air Force. He goes to Germany where he writes some of his earliest songs. When he returns to the US, he marries his sweetheart Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin) and takes her to Memphis so he can become a musician. Unfortunately, he does poorly and they live in poverty until he gets his big break.

John and his band audition for Sun Records owner/producer Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts). Initially Phillips rejects their warmed-over gospel, but when John trots out his own tunes, he wins himself a record contract and a spot on the Sun Records concert tour. There he finds himself onstage along with Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne), Roy Orbison (Johnathan Rice), Elvis Presley (Tyler Hilton) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). John mooned over June as a child, and even though both are now married with their own kids, he clearly maintains a romantic interest in her.

That theme continues through the years. June divorces and remarries while Johnny experiences his own marital difficulties, largely due to his ongoing love for June. It doesn’t help that Cash becomes a pill-popper and drunk along the way; those factors take their toll on his career as well. Line follows Cash’s life and career until 1970 as we watch Johnny’s ups and downs.

As I alluded earlier, Line shares an awful lot of similarities with Ray. In fact, the two films are so much alike that I’m damned tempted to simply cut and paste my remarks about Ray for this review. I don’t know what I said about Ray that also doesn’t apply to Line.

Actually, that’s not totally true, as I think Line boasts a stronger focus. It concentrates on Johnny’s love for June. That’s a consistent theme throughout the flick, and it’s not a coincidence that the movie ends right after she finally accepts his marriage proposal. Johnny’s feelings toward her give the story more of an arc than Ray enjoyed.

And June offers a strong female character absent from Ray. The women come and go in the latter; they make a dent but don’t offer as compelling a part. Too bad that Line doesn’t give June a whole lot to do other than act as the object of Johnny’s affection. Really, she’s the Jiminy Cricket role, as she works to clean up Cash and redeem him. Witherspoon manages to open up the part as well as she can, but as written, she’s kind of a nag and doesn’t get much dimensionality.

To a certain degree, the film hamstrings Johnny in the same way. The script doesn’t give him a lot of depth and we don’t receive much exploration of his character. Take the segment in which he gets addicted to drugs. This just happens; one minute he’s clean, and the next he’s hepped up on goofballs. I suppose his fruitless passion for June explains some of this, but that’s speculation since the movie fails to investigate this.

I don’t see Phoenix’s performance as a terrific one, but again, I think he does the best he can. The script simply doesn’t allow him much leeway. It gives him a few specific characteristics but doesn’t open up matters to greater interpretation or depth. Phoenix works his way through the superficial nature of things well but he can’t overcome the limited depth of the story.

Some have criticized the decision to have Phoenix and Witherspoon sing for themselves. Neither can replicate their characters’ voices with true accuracy, so this could become a bit of a distraction; if the singing doesn’t match with our memories of Cash and Carter, we could lose touch with the film.

In my opinion, Witherspoon and Phoenix approximate June and Johnny well enough to succeed. It’s less of a problem for Witherspoon since fewer people boast great familiarity with June’s voice. Phoenix never really emulates Johnny, but he feels close enough for my liking.

Although Ray’s use of Ray Charles’ actual vocals meant this wasn’t an issue, I prefer the choice in Line because it makes the musical sequences more seamless. I recognize that Witherspoon and Phoenix lip-synch their own tunes here, but I find that technique to be more convincing when someone mimics their own vocals. This seems more natural to me than the karaoke treatment, so the musical pieces match better than I think they would if they used old Cash and Carter recordings.

At least Line comes across less as a “greatest hits” reel than Ray. That’s due to the emphasis on June. We see some of Cash’s big moments but the movie doesn’t simply toss them at us in a haphazard way. It manages to integrate them fairly well, even if few of them stand out as particularly memorable.

Ultimately, Walk the Line comes down as a perfectly respectable and reasonably entertaining bio-pic. At no point does it become less than interesting, but it never threatens to turn into anything truly magnetic or involving either. This is decent stuff and nothing more.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

Walk the Line appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.39:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The presentation had a few problems but it usually offered solid visuals.

My only real complaints related to sharpness. Some moderate edge enhancement affected the movie’s definition, and that created looser wide shots than I expected. The rest of the transfer seemed concise and accurate, though. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and source flaws appeared absent.

Line took on a nostalgic, somewhat golden palette much of the time. It rendered its colors with fine vivacity and presence. The hues were always firm and lively. Black levels seemed rich and dense, while low-light shots offered nice delineation. Other than the occasional soft image, the presentation appeared positive.

When I examined the audio of Walk the Line, I found both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. If any significant variations differentiated the pair, I couldn’t discern them. I thought both mixes sounded very similar.

And that was fine with me, as the pair offered high-quality audio. As one might expect, music dominated the presentations. All the various tunes offered excellent stereo imaging as they spread instruments accurately across the front. Surrounds offered neat support for the music as well, though the songs focused on the front. Effects didn’t play much of a role, but they worked fine. Some thunder and audience bits added good atmospheric material.

Audio quality was solid. Speech always sounded crisp and natural, and no problems marred the dialogue. Effects seemed tight and accurate, while music was full and dynamic. The songs presented distinctive highs and warm lows. Overall, these soundtracks gave us clear, vivid audio.

For this single-disc version of Walk the Line, we get an audio commentary from director James Mangold. He offers a running, screen-specific discussion. Mangold chats about the story and characters, actors and performances, sets and period issues, his relationship and collaboration with the real Johnny and June, and a mix of general production topics. We get info about why Mangold chose to have the actors sing their own songs and many other bits connected to the music.

This was the fourth Mangold commentary I’d screened and arguably the best. Substantially more introspective than the usual discussion, Mangold offers a lot more about why he did things than how. He delves into historical and character subjects with real fervor and offers very good elaboration of the film’s themes and material. I especially like the notes about his time with Johnny and June, but Mangold makes almost every moment worthwhile here. He provides a genuinely informative and thoughtful look at his film that acts as a terrific companion piece.

Titled “More Man in Black”, the DVD presents 10 Deleted Scenes. These last a total of 23 minutes and 44 seconds of footage. These offer a look at Jack’s funeral as well as more of Johnny’s pre-fame days in Memphis. They also show the further development of his career, his various problems, and much more with Vivian. These are all pretty interesting to see, as they give us a better look at the breadth of Cash’s life. I particularly like the bits from Memphis, especially when we see Johnny’s reaction when he accidentally breaks a 45 and thinks he needs to re-record it.

We can watch the segments with or without commentary from Mangold. He goes over some story notes and relates why he cut the scenes. There’s a lot of dead air here, but Mangold hits the appropriate notes.

The DVD opens with ads for Kingdom of Heaven and The Family Stone. Under the Trailers banner, the disc includes the theatrical preview for Line as well as a soundtrack promo.

Chalk up Walk the Line as a moderate success. The movie offers a decent look at the ups and downs of Johnny Cash’s life and career, and it features consistently good performances. However, it lacks a certain spark or sense of depth that would make it more memorable. The DVD presents pretty positive picture and audio along with a small assortment of extras highlighted by a terrific commentary. Make this one a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.303 Stars Number of Votes: 33
5 3:
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