Picks and Pans Review: Walk the Line

updated 11/28/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/28/2005 AT 01:00 AM EST

Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Shelby Lynne

[STARS 3.5]

The best country songs are about heartache, and Johnny Cash suffered truckloads of it before finding lasting happiness with soulmate June Carter. Walk the Line, a moving, insightful portrait of the Man in Black, shares with last year's equally impressive Ray a recognition of its hero's gifts and flaws and an appreciation of how both contributed to his art.

Like most country stars of his generation, Cash (Phoenix) was born poor, to tenant farmers in Arkansas. Following military service and a stint as a door-to-door salesman, he climbed the charts in the mid-'50s alongside such seminal rockabilly stars as Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Touring, he met Carter (Witherspoon), who as a member of the singing Carter family was already Nashville royalty. Each was wed to another, but a warm friendship blossomed. Cash subsequently lost years to pills and booze, all the while pining for Carter, before the two found their way back to each other.

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