Dir: James Mangold. US. 2005. 135mins.

More the story of the romance between Johnny Cash and JuneCarter than a straight biopic of Cash, the eagerly awaited Walk The Line isa winning Hollywood entertainment dominated by two bright star performancesfrom Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

Wide audiences will lap up the drama, especially since it sowarmly humanises the two singing stars and gives us far more to relate to thanis usual in stories of the rich and famous.

Made with the collaboration of their son John Carter Cashand based on Cash's two autobiographies, Walk The Line is a redemptivestory about how Cash overcame his troubled childhood and problems with drugsand booze largely due to the support of Carter, a singing star in her own rightwho had two divorces of her own before settling down with him.

Bearing some story and thematic similarities to last year'sRay Charles biopic Ray, which grossed $75m in North America and afurther $48m in international, Walk The Line has a chance to equal ifnot better those numbers, especially if, like Ray, it garners awardsattention for its two lead actors. The enduring popularity of Cash's music,richly in evidence here, will help drive the film across the world.

Framed by Cash's famous Folsom Prison concert in 1968, thefilm traces Cash from his childhood in Arkansas in the 1940s which was hamperedby the accidental death of his brother and the neglect of his alcoholic father(Patrick).

After an air force posting to Germany in his late teens, hemarries his childhood sweetheart Vivian (Goodwin) who wants him to work for herfather's company. But Johnny has designs on being a singer, and he pursues hismusical ambitions to his wife's annoyance.

Nevertheless his brand of passionate, deeply felt countrygets him a record contract, his first hits in the mid-50s and a slot on acountry tour with, among others, June Carter (Witherspoon), the vivacious andpopular daughter of the first family of country.

There is chemistry between the two, but Carter is newlydivorced and mindful that Cash is also married, so refuses to take it anyfurther.

The performers on the tour are put through a punishingschedule and soon Cash is drinking hard and using amphetamines and barbituratesto keep going. As his fame increases, he is away from home most of the time andhis marriage suffers as a result.

Some years later, Carter has another failed marriage underher belt when Cash recruits her to join his latest tour. The two sleeptogether, but the vulnerable Carter finds about his drug addictions and leavesthe tour.

When Cash is arrested for possession and his marriagefinally ends, he moves to Nashville where Carter agrees to help him kick hishabits and overcome some of the demons from his past. They finally marry in1968.

For director James Mangold, Walk The Line marks areturn to form after the mediocrity of Kate & Leopold and Identity.

Phoenix and Witherspoon both sing the Cash/Carter songsthemselves - an achievement which will help further their cause in awardsseason. That they both also deliver engaging, fully-realised characterisationsand work up a tremendous chemistry, on stage and off, can only make them earlyfavourites for nominations.

Production companies
Fox 2000 Pictures
Tree Line Films
Catfish Productions

Worldwide distribution
20th Century Fox

Executive producers
John Carter Cash
Alan C Blomquist

Cathy Konrad
James Keach

Gill Dennis
James Mangold
based on Man In Black and Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash

Phedon Papamichael

Production design
David J Bomba

Michael McCusker

T-Bone Burnett

Main cast
Joaquin Phoenix
Reese Witherspoon
Ginnifer Goodwin
Robert Patrick
Dallas Roberts