A solid and entertaining biopic, Walk the Line works less as a movie than an actors' showcase for its stars. Joaquin Phoenix's total immersion into the skin of singer Johnny Cash is startling--watching it, you can't believe this is the same guy who whined about being "vexed" in Gladiator. As he evolves from a farm boy to gospel croonin' plunker to the Man in Black, Phoenix disappears into Cash's deep baritone, his way of slinging the guitar onto his back, and his hunched-up style of strumming. But it's more than just picking up mannerisms: Phoenix also sings as Johnny Cash, and it's quite impressive.
The story of how Johnny Cash became Johnny Cash traces from his childhood under a distant father (Robert Patrick) to his early attempts at a music career, during which he married his girlfriend Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin). During a tour with the likes of Elvis (Tyler Hilton) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Malloy Payne), he encounters singer June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), and his love for her--and her rejection of him through the years--spurs him into drugs, drinking, and depression. As with most movies based on real-life singers, as his popularity grows, the women come a-flockin', and the childhood demons surface. Witherspoon, who matches Phoenix drawl for drawl, plays June both as a sassy spitfire whose charm breaks your heart, and as a sympathetic friend who tries to help Cash get over--well, her. The love story is what endures, but the movie comes most alive during its musical numbers, and even if you're not a country fan, it may just get you to run out and buy a Johnny Cash album. --Ellen A. Kim