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File:WalkTheLine 1.jpg


 "You look like you're going to a funeral."

"Well maybe I am."


A 2005 Biopic on the life of Country Music singer Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix), directed by James Mangold. Based somewhat on Cash's real life, it follows him through his formative years as he loses his brother to a sawmill accident, and then joins the Air Force. Later on, he returns to the U.S. and tries to work as a salesman, but ends up signing to Sun Records because his heart is in the music business. Along the way, he marries and then divorces his first wife, Vivian, then meets and befriends June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). After some drug-induced tumult, he eventually cleans up and performs his now-legendary concert at Folsom Prison. Johnny and June then perform a concert in Canada, where he interrupts a song to propose to her. She accepts. (No, this wasn't a Hollywood romance ending. That really did happen.)

The film was met with generally positive reviews, praising in particular Phoenix's and Witherspoon's roles, as well as the fact that both actors did all of their own singing and instrument playing. It grossed over $186 million worldwide and won Witherspoon several awards. One noted critic of the movie was Rosanne Cash, Johnny's daughter from his first marriage, who said it was "painful"; Rosanne had a very good relationship with her stepmother June, and even spoke at her funeral. Mangold justified the somewhat unflattering portrayal of Roseanne's mother Vivian by saying that as a character, she was being seen from Johnny's perspective as he fell in love with June.

Tropes present:

  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Johnny Cash actually did propose to June on stage. This was not an invention of Hollywood.
  • Artistic License Music: Referenced by Cash, who said that he hoped that whoever played him would at least know how to hold a guitar. He did.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Johnny Cash. And his brother, Jack Cash.
  • Badass Grandpa / Badass Grandma: When Johnny was undergoing his self-imposed detoxification, his dealer, unaware that anything was going on, showed up at Johnny's house with his supply of pills. The dealer was met by Johnny's future father-in-law Ezra Carter, with a shotgun. Backing up Ezra was his wife "Mother" Maybelle. With her own shotgun.
  • Better by a Different Name: How about that Elvis Presley miniseries with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, about a man whose brother dies in childhood, but he becomes famous as a musician, and then falls into substance abuse, but overcomes it with the love of a good woman? Or that Ray Charles movie with Jamie Foxx, about a man whose brother dies in childhood, but he becomes famous as a musician, and then falls into substance abuse, but overcomes it with the love of a good woman? Well then came the Johnny Cash movie with Joaquin Phoenix, about...
    • But interestingly, the success of these stories actually increased with each example.
  • Dead Little Brother
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Johnny Cash is distant and generally a dick to his first wife, while openly pursuing June Carter who, by contrast, is entirely unwilling to betray her husband. But he's portrayed sympathetically, and has a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when he finally winds up with her. He is Johnny freaking Cash though.
  • Heel Faith Turn: Johnny goes through one of these, although it is shown subtly. As Johnny descends deeper into his adulterous and drug-filled career, he shows an aversion to religion and praying. Following his detox, June takes him to a church service. He hesitates, but walks in after being encouraged by June.
  • Historical In-Joke: When Johnny Cash wakes up on the tour bus, he walks past a passed out Luther Perkins (his guitarist) with a lit cigarette in his mouth and he casually put it out. Luther Perkins died months after the "At Folsom Prison" recording/performance when he fell asleep in his Tennessee home with a lit cigarette in his mouth, and died from injuries sustained in the resulting fire.
    • Similarly, Elvis Presley offers Johnny amphetamines and cheese fries, two of the things that would lead to his own heavyset phase and early death.
  • Meaningful Echo: Several lines, including the page quote.
  • Non Sequitur Thud: As he loses consciousness after collapsing onstage, Johnny mutters, "Fortunately, I keep my feathers numbered for just such an occasion" (an old Foghorn Leghorn line).
    • Doubles as a Meaningful Echo, as Johnny was telling his brother about that cartoon shortly before the latter's death.
  • Oscar Bait: Accused of being this; though it has many of the elements of the genre including historical figures and drug addictions.
  • Precision F-Strike: Cash generally sticks only to the mild, old-school country boy stuff like "damn" and "hell". But in the scene where he performs on stage drunk/high, he acts very strange, playing the guitar with a dazed smile on his face and making an unusually harsh aside to his drummer: "Just play the fucking thing." Moments later, he collapses. This surprising usage of the word catches the viewer off-guard and lets them know something bad is about to go down.
    • At Folsom Prison, he remarks that the concert is being recorded for an album, "so you can't say 'hell' or 'shit' or anything like that." This comment appears on the actual album, although the LP had the latter bleeped out.
  • Shown Their Work: Phoenix and Witherspoon learned to sing and play guitar and autoharp, respectively, for their roles. Witherspoon also looked through June Carter Cash's closet for inspiration. According to music supervisor and legendary producer T-Bone Burnett, Phoenix had trouble getting to Cash's iconic tone that they nearly resigned themselves to dubbing him over before Phoenix's voice dropped to the correct octave a week before shooting.
  • Title Drop: June says "Y'all can't walk no line" in one scene. Oh yes, and there is the fact that Cash recorded a song called "I Walk the Line."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: June tends to give these to John.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: These are the exact words J.R. says to his dying brother.
  • The Unfavourite: Johnny never could quite match up to his dutiful dead brother, Jack, in his dad's eyes.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Johnny's father, partly due to Johnny's aformentioned status as the unfavored son.