Today’s Prayer Focus

Walk the Line

MPA Rating: PG-13 for some language, thematic material and depiction of drug dependency

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Biography, Music, Drama
2 hr. 15 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 18, 2005 (wide)
DVD release: February 28, 2006
Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox Copyright, 20th Century Fox
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Featuring Joaquin Phoenix
Reese Witherspoon
Ginnifer Goodwin
Shelby Lynne
Robert Patrick
Director James Mangold
Producer Cathy Konrad
James Keach
Distributor Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Trademark logo.Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, a division of The Walt Disney Company
Click for interview

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “He picked cotton, sold door to door, and served in the Air Force. He was a voice of rebellion that changed the face of rock and roll. An outlaw before today’s rebels were born—and an icon they would never forget. He did all this before turning 30. And his name was Johnny Cash. WALK THE LINE explores the early years of the music legend, an artist who transcended musical boundaries to touch people around the globe. As his music changed the world, Cash’s own world was rocked by the woman who became the love of his life: June Carter.

The story begins in Depression-era Arkansas, tracing the origins of Cash’s sound back to his beginnings as a sharecropper’s son; moves through his wild tours with rock and roll pioneers Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Waylon Jennings; and culminates in his unforgettable 1968 concert in Folsom Prison. He became the hottest artist of the day, outselling even the Beatles. WALK THE LINE chronicles the birth of a new kind of American artist who had to move past raw anger, the ravages of addiction, and the temptations of stardom to discover the voice that would make him a hero to generations. Those early years encompass the themes that ran through Cash’s music and minimalist style: death, love, treachery, sin, hope and faith.”


Director James Mangold explains that he sees three main threads running through his biography film about real life “Man in Black” Johnny Cash. “Walk the Line” focuses primarily on Johnny Cash’s music career, his bout with drug abuse, and his romantic love with fellow musician and eventual wife June Carter. The story is a rather rigorous one, emphasizing Cash’s struggle with various addictive substances, but does manage to provide a glimpse into the redemptive work that finally works itself out in his life.

Beginning and ending with Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) performing his famous Folsom Prison concert, the rest of the story is primarily a flashback of how this rough-and-tumble musician began his career and helped shape the face of country music as we know it today. Not shying away from his broken marriage or his lengthy struggle with drugs and alcohol, the story also includes such positive aspects as how he was discovered as a musician and how he found a love that helped lift him out of the mire. The film ends in 1968, but in some respects Johnny Cash’s life was only just beginning.

As the scriptwriter and director for the film, James Mangold defended his reason for choosing to tell about this particular time of Johnny Cash’s life because, as we know, story has to be about conflict. Mangold describes this time of Cash’s life as the time when he was pushing God away and basically destroying himself. Throughout the whole film we see him in conflict with his dad, with his first wife, with June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) and even with himself. It isn’t until the end then that we finally see his life being restored.

Included in the film are a few situations that one may want to be aware of. Many scenes show Cash popping pills and drinking alcohol, as well as bumbling around under the influence of these substances. There are a few instances of foul language, including the Lord’s name being taken in vain and the use of the f-word. John is also alluded to having affairs with girls while on tour, and sleeps with June while he is still married to his first wife, Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin). There is no nudity, but this film unapologetically details the failures and foibles of this man’s life.

Before Cash’s fame and success, his life was quite innocent and pure. He and his wife Vivian struggle to make ends meet while John works various jobs and plays music with his friends on the side. The music he first learns and plays is Gospel music, inspired perhaps by the hymnal his mother gave him, which he also familiarized himself with while growing up. Gospel music is also what he first plays when he auditions for a record producer the day he is discovered.

However, the music that made Johnny Cash famous was not Gospel music, initially. When Johnny Cash and his band audition for record producer Sam Phillips (Dallas Roberts) with a song about how Jesus saved his soul, Phillips tells him that he doesn’t believe John when he sings it. Phillips tells John that Gospel music is not selling, and that he wants him to sing something that is “real” because that is what is going to sell. So, John changes his tune, literally. Phillips also adds that it’s not about God, but about believing in yourself. This makes me wonder, if things did happen just like this, how Johnny Cash’s life would have been different if he had decided to stick with Gospel music.

It is also well known that John’s faith in God and in Christ Jesus had the biggest impact on his life, and is what helped turn him around for good. This critical aspect is somewhat inferred, but it seems to be overshadowed by the emphasis placed on John and June’s love for each other. Mangold said that he thinks it is June that ultimately saves John’s life. But following the turning point where June rescues John out of the lake, the two are shown attending a church service.

The acting and singing are quite impressive in this biography picture. Since so much is known about Johnny Cash, and since people are so familiar with his voice and music, the task of portraying him is quite daunting. Phoenix faithfully executes various nuances of Johnny Cash, as does Witherspoon in portraying June Carter—and both sing their parts excellently. Mangold explains that he sees a great asset in having the actors sing these parts (instead of using a voice double) because this way the actors have an outlet to express so much more of their characters.

God, Drugs and Country Western
DVD cover. Copyrighted.

Read our interview with WALK THE LINE’s director and actors Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon and others

“Walk the Line” is a real life, honest look at Johnny Cash’s life. It has it’s entertainment, as well as a heavy dose of scenes about drugs. The performances are great, but the lack of focus on John’s spiritual life, specifically with his faith in Christ, is disappointing. Overall, though, it is a redemptive story.

  • Language: Moderate
  • Violence: Mild
  • Sex/Nudity: Mild

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—Walking the fine line of making a movie based upon someone’s life can be a very controversial dilemma. In today’s ever changing world of distorting history, re-writing facts and making things up to make us feel better or worse about someone’s life, it is extremely hard to find the truth. However, “Walk the Line” is the TRUE story of the first couple decades in Johnny Cash’s career. The facts of this movie have been extensively researched and verified by almost every single person in Johnny Cash’s life and is a flawless representation of the Man in Black.

If you are expecting a glorious representation of a wonderful man, then you will be watching the wrong movie. Wonderful YES, Glorious NO! This is the story of a man who was blessed by God with a gift of bringing music to life, though conviction and experience. Being raised by an incredibly Godly woman and a father who blames him for his brother’s death, Johnny Cash sets out to find out who he is in life by joining the military and pursuing him dreams. He knows one thing, and that is that he loves music, God and his high school sweetheart who end quickly marries. See all »
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
John Kehrli, age 31
Positive—Johnny Cash, a man who has touched millions through a simple thing as a guitar and his unmistakable voice. This movie serves as a biography of the man behind the music, and it will touch your heart. Cash’s tale is a gritty one, as he has to battle drug addiction, divorce, issues with his father thinking he wasn’t good enough for him and other things. I can identify a good deal with how his personality was, and this movie served as a realistic and overall uplifting portrayal of an American music legend. I will do what I can now to seek out his albums, because I feel I have missed out on something truly special. I felt that his faith could have been talked about more directly, however, it was very tastefully done, and his courting of June Carter was quite fun to watch, especially for the romantic ending. I highly recommend this movie for teenagers on up.
My Ratings: Good / 5
Ben Webb, age 22
Positive—This is an amazingly well-made biopic about Johnny Cash and June Carter. I knew a little about his life. I remember seeing him and June Carter on a variety of talkshows way back in the 60s and 70s. The lead actors are superb, especially Reese Witherspoon, who totally captures the essence of June Carter. Yes, one does see Johnny Cash as a drunk and a drug addict, but we also see June Carter as the woman of God who helps him overcome these addictions—and his abiding love for her. It is very clear from the storyline that Johnny Cash’s childhood was not happy and was a factor in his self-destructive lifestyle. It is not easy to summarize a life, and in this case, two lives, as they interweave. The movie accomplishes its goal well. Highly recommended, despite the depiction of the sins of these complicated, talented people. In the end, they are redeemed, thank God.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4½
Positive—Appeared to be an accurate portrayal of their life together. The movie did NOT glorify drug or alcohol usage and shows the harmful effects on the health of the person and the family. Since the movie ended soon after their marriage, their commitment to Christ and gospel music was not seen. A very encouraging example of how a committed wife can help her husband succeed. Personally, I would not take anyone under 15 years due to language and some sexual inferences.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
Sharon, age 43
Positive—…I think “Walk the Line” is going to be this year’s big Oscar winner. Joaquin Phoenix (Johnny Cash) gives an incredible performance as a man focusing his energies into his passion which is music, while dealing with the demons of his past and present that come into his life. Reese Witherspoon (June Carter) manages to shine as well, as she borders on leaving Johnny altogether to wallow in his own misery to sticking by him as a true friend/companion that eventually brings him out of his drug dependency lifestyle and finding out that they really were meant for each other all along.

The actors used their own voices in the film and it makes it more entertaining knowing they went the extra mile to give the film a sense of realism, this feat was not easy, as to my knowledge neither actor has had any musical/singing background before they started this project. Language is kept on the light side, and there are issues dealing with drug dependency, but this is essential in telling the story. All in all a great film that will entertain most mature teens and adults alike. You don’t have to be a fan of country music or Johnny Cash to appreciate this film. Go and see it, I think you’ll be glad you did!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
Tom Becker, age 37
Positive—Incredible movie, and a definite must see. It does have a bit of bad language, but only like 5 words. It is a very true to life movie about Cash and does include some of his Christian upbringing and portrays it in a very positive way. You can;t go wrong with this movie.
My Ratings: Good / 5
JR, age 23
Positive—My husband and I saw this movie even though Johnny Cash was before our generation, and we really weren’t that familiar with his background. We absolutely LOVED IT! Joaquin and Reese do their best work in this movie. Obviously, it deals with real life struggles such as drugs and infidelity, so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 13, but it’s very engaging. You won’t want it to end.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
Rachelle Smotherman, age 32
Positive—…More than any other major film this year, this story has a gospel message. (Spoilers follow in this paragraph and the next.) When Johnny Cash is at one of the lowest points of his life, June Carter tells him that God has given him a second chance, and shortly thereafter they are seen going to church, where June makes clear to him that he is welcome despite everything he has done. …And while the film starts shortly before the two get married, the epilogue states that they were married for more than three decades, certainly a contrast from the instability he had prior to turning his life around. June clearly was doing what good Christians do, caring for someone and showing him the way.

Yes, this film does portray adultery, drug abuse and foul language. But none of them are shown as being desirable or worth emulating. I must say I was incredibly how impressed the two lead actors did their roles. It’s one thing to play a historical character, it’s quite another to play people anyone seeing this film will be familiar with. They both pulled it off quite well, even the music.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4½
Eric, age 52
Positive—I struggled with the moral rating, but decided on good. My Lovely Bride and I are conservative Christians who know the Bible as literally and figuratively the bedrock of our lives. And when we heard that “Walk the Line” had sexual references and vulgar language in addition to the drug usage, we had some reservations. But the movie was well worth the money and the time. The drug and alcohol use in the movie were in no way glorifying that lifestyle and clearly led to a moral decay that Johnny and his family couldn’t escape. The sexual references were not crude, nor were they sugar-coated. They reflected the horrible betrayal that Johnny inflicted on his first wife and the movie showed the emotional pain visited upon all of them, including him.

I didn’t expect a Hollywood movie to actually endorse a Christian lifestyle, and this one does shy away from it. So I can’t give it an Excellent moral rating. But it was good. I will let my son see it when he is on the edge of becoming an adult, as an object lesson in what happens when one of us turns from God toward sin in any of these forms. Finally, as many others have mentioned, the acting was superb. I am not a fan of Phoenix or Witherspoon. But they captured the essence of Johnny and June. My wife thought their voices were accurate as well, though I disagreed on his. While Phoenix definitely has good pipes, he never convinced me I was listening to Johnny. But that is probably unfair, because that is one voice that I have never heard duplicated.
My Ratings: Good / 4½
Alan, age 37
Positive—I had often wondered why Johnny Cash sang some of the songs he sang, so the movie certainly helped explain his boy to man story in detail from about 1944-1968. The acting was good all the way through, and the atmosphere was memorably powerful within the first minute. Cash thumbs a menacing circular saw-blade in Folsom Prison and as the inmates pound their feet in anticipation of the Man In Black, we’re taken back fascinatingly to his early days on a laborious cotton farm in Arkansas. There were aspects of June and John’s lives that I never knew.

I was interested in the choice of songs and why the movie suddenly ended after two hours of tension and heartbreak during a hoped for final happy moment. After all, we sweated with John during his drug dependency, and we yearned with June over her inner turmoil and divided loyalties, and then the story was done. I would have liked to have seen more of the Carter family influence and what happened inside the church Johnny and June were seen approaching after he had gone “cold turkey” with her help and with her parents “riding shotgun.” One more triumphant song would have been perfect, but it was a good experience and I want to see it again.

I WILL buy it when it goes DVD with extra scenes, and want my kids to see it when they reach teen age! One “f” word late on, no nudity, implied sex during adulterous behavior, heavy drinking. Good flick, with a message!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
Chris Marsden, age 50
Positive—I enjoyed this movie, but wish that they had showed more of Cash’s life after he and June were married. I also wonder if Cash was a Christian while having the affair with Carter, or it he became a Christian later.
My Ratings: Good / 5
Bill Boylston, age 46
Positive—I have heard so much about this film, and being a bit of a fan of Johnny Cash and June Carter… I was looking forward to seeing it. You know how something is built up too much for you and then when you finally see it… it doesn’t live up to your expectations? Well, that sort of happened to me with this movie. I was a little disappointed. This movie is being advertised on a local Christian radio station here. (Perhaps because I live in TN where the Cashes were from), and I was expecting more about their spirituality. There is one very short scene where she is taking him to a church service, and it shows them walking toward the church and hymn singing is in the background. That is about it except for one time she mentions God and you hear them talk about Jesus a little at the beginning. This movie isn’t really about that.

The story actually ends with John and June getting engaged, so perhaps the spiritual growth parts of their lives probably came after that… but I was always under the impression that she led him to the Lord, or back to the Lord. This film does show her influence, but it really looks like SHE was his salvation, and not the Lord. It is based on his book, and they did approve the script, so I guess that means it is pretty acurate.

What this story is really about is how they met and fell in love and it is not a good story in the sense that he was married at the time and they clearly did some wrong things… making the road to their union a very rocky one that messed up many lives along the way. And yes… this is yet another movie about a celebrity who got messed up with drugs and booze and sex before getting his life in order. We’ve seen it in films about Elvis, Ray Charles, Judy Garland… and even Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, which is still probably the best one in this genre. So what makes this movie worth seeing? Easy. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. They are both very good actors…
My Ratings: Average / 4
Warren Sager, age 48
Positive—This was a fine film. Missing from the reviews so far is the film’s brief but stinging indictment of the church-going Christians who lashed and turned their backs on Johnny Cash and June Carter. June faces the pious contempt from one such “Christian” in a supermarket. We later see this woman sitting comfortably in a church pew, still oblivious to Christ’s message of forgiveness. Johnny Cash’s father is similarly portrayed as a God-fearing church-goer who never stops blaming John for the accidental death of his first-born child. I think we all know members of our congregations who are similarly quick to render judgment and slow to offer compassion.

Johnny Cash, throughout his life, identified with, and felt more comfortable in the company of, prisoners and “sinners.” This was the case before and after his “redemption” through June’s love. Not mentioned in earlier reviews here is salvation Cash achieved through divorcing his first wife. Clearly the young Johnny and Vivian did not marry well and all suffered for it. We all make mistakes. Some choose the wrong spouse. Some choose to soothe their psychic wounds by abusing drugs and alcohol. Some break the law. All deserve our respect and compassion. This for me is the message of “Walk the Line.”
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
Thomas Ormond, age 33
Positive—This movie is amazing. Despite the PG-13 rating, which is not fitting for the movie, this one carries complete Christian values. I took my 17 year old, 15 year old, 12 year old, 9 year old, 4 year old twins, and 2 year old to this movie. They learned so much about God in the movie and the right ways to behave. I am glad I took my kids. It is worth the money. I would have paid 20 dollars to see this and for each of my kids, 20 dollars per person, to see this! This promotes religious values. A MUST SEE FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN GOD!!
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
Taylo, age 38
Comments from young people
Positive—This was one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. Finally, I felt comfortable in a theater and could enjoy the entire movie. “Walk the Line” is not apologetic about the bad turns and choices in Johnny Cash’s life. It shows that sin DOES have consequences. The story was great and made me more interested in the music and his life. I wanted to know more about his faith and what he believed in; they didn’t delve deeper into that in the movie, but after all this is a Hollywood movie. I was plain surprised to see the main characters attending church in one scene!

As for the quality of the movie, it is excellent. You really feel like you are sent back in time to observe the musician’s life. The film moves through the thirties to the sixties, without missing a step. The music is fantastic of course. There are three or four instances of swearing, but no where near what appears in regular movies today. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone with an interest in music or who likes historical movies.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
Sara H., age 19
Positive—LOVED IT!!! Superb performances by EVERY SINGLE actor and actress!!! Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Waylon Payne, Tyler Hilton and Jonathan Rice were all fantastic! The costumes and sets of the ’50s and 60s were excellent! Absolutely outstanding—everyone should have won an Oscar. A lot of Christian critics condemn the fact that this movie doesn’t show enough of God’s work in Johnny Cash’s life—God is ALWAYS working in everyone’s lives, albeit the movie does not actually point that out, but June does when she says “God has given you a second chance to make things right.” I found it extremely interesting to see what Johnny Cash (as we all know became a good, Christian man) went through to get to the stage when he came back to God. All the hardships, ups and downs, hurt and pain, and the way God worked in his life to turn it around. We all know that Johnny was going to fall, and hard, but before any of that happened, God had planted the Carter’s in Johnny’s life, that they would help him when the time comes around. I think EVRYTHING in this movie was a very clear message of God’s work.

We all go through hard times, and we question our faith and sometimes even stray a little, bad things happen and we feel like we’re falling and there’s no hope, but everything in your life has a purpose, the bad things and the mistakes leave you needing something, that something is Jesus in your heart and God watching over you.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
Maria-Antoinette, age 19
Positive—“Walk the Line” portrays the beginnings of Johnny Cash’s life and his road to fame (or infamy—however you view it) Admittedly, there are a few instances of profanity and suggestive situations, but one must remember that this is an accurate image of the effects of drugs and alcohol. DO NOT TAKE YOUR CHILDREN TO THIS MOVIE—In my opinion, no one under 15 should see this film. Drugs and alcohol play a major role. While these are shown to have a detrimental effect on Johnny’s life, this content may not be appropriate for the younger audiences. “Walk the Line” does show Christianity in a positive light—a very refreshing change from the secular norm.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
Michael, age 17
Positive—Very good movie! Some profanities and sexual suggestions, but Joaquin Phoenix does an excellent job at portraying Johnny Cash, as does Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. It is all based pretty true to the life of Johnny Cash. It was pretty sad seeing the character depend on drugs as much as he did. I would recommend it to most everyone. Great movie!!
My Ratings: Average / 5
Meagan, age 15
Positive—WOW! I loved this movie. It portrayed Johnny Cash’s life perfectly! Drugs were a major part of this movie, but in order for the movie to be true it had to be in there. It definitely showed Christianity in a positive light via June’s outlook on Cash’s life.

The acting/singing in this movie were absolutely amazing! Whenever I hear Phoenix say “hello I’m Johnny Cash” it gives me tingles! I would not recommend this to anyone under 13 or 14; it is a serious movie that kids under that age would not appreciate. There is some innuendo as well as swearing.

I am definitely going to see this movie again and maybe buy it when it comes out! Excellent movie, you don’t want to miss it!
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
Brittany, age 17
Negative—“Walk The Line” was a depressing movie. The acting was great, but the story was uninspiring, mostly since there was a lot of drugs and drinking. The movie made unfaithful spouses not seem like a big deal.
My Ratings: Average / 3
Maggie, age 15
Positive—…I love this movie! I think that it definitely deserved to have so many Oscar nominations. So, basically, this is one of my favorite movies!
My Ratings: Average / 5
Bree, age 13
Negative—This movie was so terrible I don’t know where to start! This is the first movie I’ve seen that I won’t be willing to see “just once more” and see if I like it better when I know what to expect; I’ll regret seeing it even once for the rest of my life. From the beginning I wanted to walk out. The movie is full of language and violence, and there is one sex scene, however, it doesn’t show anything very explicit. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for kids, and probably a lot of teens would be better off not seeing it.
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 4
Linda, age 14
Positive—This was a very good movie based on the life of Johnny Cash. Yes, it had language, references to drugs and alcohol, and implied “scenes,” but if you watch it with TV Guardian (which cuts out language) then I would definitely recommend this movie to you. Since this movie was based on his life, and they didn’t add those things in for Hollywood’s sake, this is a good movie to see. They couldn’t cut those things out of the movie, because then they would be cutting out his life. That was who he was. Johnny and June Carter Cash became Christians after Johnny turned his life around and they were amazing Christians to their death. The movie doesn’t focus on their Christian life but they do lead up to it. “They ended the movie right before his life really began” is what my sister said. Because the movie ends right before he becomes a Christian. Other than the things in Cash’s life, which were displayed on the movie, this movie was amazing and gets you hooked on Johnny and June Carter Cash and their music. I definitely recommend this movie.
My Ratings: Average / 4
Emily, age 16
Positive—“Walk The Line” is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. You’ll want to watch it again and again. And if you’re a Johnny Cash fan, you can’t not see it. Sure, it has questionable moments. Drugs, drinking, affairs, etc. But you have to understand that this is a biography about his life. It’s not a good movie that Hollywood turned bad by sticking all that stuff in it. He struggled with that stuff. And, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to see a movie about someone that’s full of false information. Or that they cover up to make the person not look so bad. Besides moral issues: The acting was incredible. The costumes were great. Everything was just wonderful. I especially enjoyed the scenes when they’re singing. The songs are so catchy, I had to go out and buy the soundtrack. Bottom line: see it.
My Ratings: Good / 5
Krystal, age 16