10. WALK THE LINE
(2005, Directed by James Mangold, Written by James Mangold and Gill Dennis, based on Johnny Cash’s autobiographies)
Johnny Cash was arguably the greatest singer of popular music in the second half of the 20th century, even more so than Frank Sinatra; while Sinatra was always essentially a great singer of jazz and “standards” (by the likes of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin) from the first half of the century, Cash covered the waterfront of “pop” music, with his own, often definitive versions of songs by everyone from Vera Lynne to Depeche Mode, as celebrated on his “American” series of recordings with Rick Rubin at the end of his career. Those recordings returned Cash to the forefront of popular music after a long decline, and Walk The Line was their cinematic equivalent, telling and celebrating the story of the fabled “Man in Black.”
The film has been criticized as a hagiography and there is a degree of truth in that criticism, particularly as the screenplay was based on Cash’s own account of his long and troubled life. Nevertheless, through James Mangold’s skilful direction, and in particular the uncharacteristically controlled and sympathetic performance of Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and the deservedly Oscar-winning performance of Reese Witherspoon as his beloved, June Carter, Walk The Line – appropriately enough – walks the line between truth-telling and reverence, and between fact and myth.