Johnny Cash (Phoenix) grows up poor on a cotton farm in Arkansas, burdened by a cold, overbearing father (Patrick), and a childhood tragedy that scars him for life. After a stint in the Air Force, he marries his sweetheart Vivian (Goodwin) and tries to settle down. But dreams of making his living in music draw him to Sam Phillips (Roberts) of Sun Records in Memphis, where he records his first track. His records start to sell and young Johnny ends up touring with Elvis, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis. He also meets June Carter (Witherspoon), an established singing star whom he’s admired for years. Together they embark on a long, complicated relationship during which he’ll win fame and June’s heart, even as he battles addiction to pills, booze and various other personal demons.
This glossy, riveting biopic soars, due mainly to the Oscar-nominated performances of both Witherspoon and Phoenix (Reese actually won). Though six inches shorter than the real article, Phoenix truly inhabits the persona of icon Cash (no small feat), and Witherspoon is letter-perfect (and note-perfect!) as his savior: the bouncy, buoyant June. Astonishingly, both actors actually played the instruments and performed the vocals themselves. Highlight: the concert Cash gives at Folsom prison, which director Mangold stages with furious energy. “Walk” this “Line”!