Johnny Cash was one of the most prolific music artists of his time and to this day his unique style stands out. Known as the Man in Black, he had a sound and look unlike any other and his is a talent that has never been duplicated. But there was more to the man than just his music and not many people this day and age know what Cash went through. In 2005 when 20th Century Fox's Walk the Line was released it caught a lot of people's attention for just that very reason.
Directed by James Mangold (Girl Interrupted, 3:10 to Yuma), Walk the Line stars Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. To say that the chemistry between these two performers was anything less than stellar would be an understatement. Both were nominated for an Oscar for their performances here, and Reese actually took one home. The film also received multiple other nominations for Academy Awards as well. If you've never seen the movie then you should take that into consideration as a barometer for how good the film actually is.
Walk the Line begins in Folsom State Prison with Cash sitting in a storage room while his band keeps the tempo going for the lively crowd of inmates. He thumbs a table saw and the film flashes back to 1944 when Cash was 12 years old. Life was hard. His father didn't hide the fact that he liked his older brother Jack more than him and we frequently see the abuses he took. Making matters worse was that fact that 1944 was the year his brother died and it involved an accident with a table saw similar to the one Cash is thumbing in the opening.
Soon enough Walk the Line leaps forward by eight years and we get to see Cash in the Air Force stationed in Germany. He proposes to his old girlfriend Vivian Liberto (Jennifer Goodwin) and eventually moves back to America to settle down. It's clear that the normal sort of life isn't exactly what the doctor ordered for Cash. He has his head wrapped in music, can't hold down a job, and seems utterly miserable in his relationship with Vivian. That's when he spots a recording studio and is inspired to pull together something resembling a band and pitch their talent to the agent. After stumbling at first, he eventually succeeds and winds up on tour with Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and June Carter.
In this new world of music Cash begins to forget the troubles of the world at home. He starts to fall for June, gets hooked on pills thanks to Elvis, and has a total meltdown. It's a slow downward spiral that the film portrays perfectly and you really get the sense of hopelessness and agony as Cash hits rock-bottom. It takes a long time for things to turn around and a majority of time with the film is spent watching Cash trying to pick himself back up.
To his credit Phoenix does one hell of a job portraying Johnny Cash. There are times where it seems he's channeling his spirit and you can tell he invested a great deal of time in researching the musician. He comes across as quite conflicted, determined, and dangerous, which are all traits Cash probably exhibited during the darker moments of his life. Witherspoon is the one ray of light in this picture and her plucky June Carter really stands in contrast to Cash's downfall. The character has some baggage of her own and Whitherspoon, like Phoenix, absolutely nails the character. By the way, both actors do their own singing.
Walk the Line is a film that's hard to watch at times, but then again the best films sometimes are. It's an engaging piece that captivates you from the very first scene and absolutely everything in this movie clicked in a way that felt like magic. This is a must-see film and it's one that deserves to have a home in anyone's movie collection.
Fox's presentation of Walk the Line on Blu-ray is nothing short of excellent. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 and lands on a 50GB Dual Layer Blu-ray disc with 1080p resolution and AVC codec at 24 Mbps. The picture quality stands out head and shoulders above that of the standard definition DVD. The image is crisp, clean, and vibrant from start to finish with only a few instances where grain is noticeable in the background. Everything from the sweat pouring off Phoenix's brow on stage to the curls in Witherspoon's hair comes across as immaculate.
Walk the Line's video quality is a cut above, and so is the audio. The film's main English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track absolutely blew me away. The clarity, bass, and overall sense of immersion were fantastic. Every time the movie features a performance by the cast you'll literally feel like you're sitting in the audience. The soundstage comes to life and dominates everything. It's also quite remarkable how the production of this film made everything sound authentic from the ground up. When the soundtrack isn't blowing you away with the music the dialogue is crisp, clean, and finds its home on the front channel.
As far as bonus features are concerned, Walk the Line's Blu-ray release omits many features that were made available on the Extended Cut DVD release of the film. Keep that in mind if you're looking to upgrade. It kicks things off with an audio commentary by co-writer and director James Mangold. This commentary track is chock full of information regarding the production of the film and you really get a sense for what it was like working on the project. Mangold brings a lot of ideas and thoughts to the table and it's clear this film was in the right hands from the beginning. This was one of the most insightful commentary tracks I've heard in a while and definitely is worth listening to.
Other than the commentary there is a series of deleted scenes with optional commentary from Mangold, some extended musical sequences, and a theatrical trailer. There are three featurettes as well. "Folsom, Cash & The Comeback" (11:45) features a veritable who's who of anyone that knew Cash back in the day or was involved with the Folsom Prison concert. This was a defining moment in Cash's career and it's interesting to hear about it from the group assembled. "Celebrating the Man in Black: The Making of Walk the Line" (21:26) is a straightforward making of feature that brings together the cast and some dignitaries to talk about producing the film. There are some interesting moments here, but in all honesty I found Mangold's commentary to be more informative. And finally, "Ring of Fire: The Passion of Johnny & June" (11:27) takes a look at the relationship between the two.
Walk the Line is an example of masterpiece filmmaking. It's a movie that doesn’t pull any punches as it takes you down the dark road Johnny Cash walked for many years. His relationship with June Carter is highlighted as his salvation and as a viewer you're really taken on an emotional roller coaster ride. Everything from the acting to the writing, music, sets, and directing are a cut above. This Blu-ray release of the theatrical edition also presents nearly immaculate picture quality, a smart, booming soundtrack, and some solid bonus features (even though many have been left out). Whether you've seen the movie before or not, consider this latest release highly recommended.