Walk the Line is a 2005 American biographical drama film directed by James Mangold and based on the early life and career of country music artist Jonny Cash. The film focuses on Cash's early life, his romance with June Carter, and his ascent to the country music scene, with material taken from his autobiographies.
In 1968, an audience of inmates at Folsom State Prisoncheer for Jonny Cash's band as he waits backstage near a table saw, reminding him of his early life.
In 1944, Johnny, then known as J.R., grows up the son of a share cropper on a cotton farm in Dyess, Arkansas, and is adept with hymnals, while his brother Jack is training himself to become a pastor. While Jack is sawing wood for a neighbor, J.R. goes fishing while he finishes. However, Jack injures himself with the saw, and dies of his injuries. Cash's strained relationship with his father Ray, becomes much more difficult after Jack's death. In 1950, J.R. enlists in the United States Air Force as Johnny Cash, and is posted in West Germany. One day in 1952, he finds solace in playing a guitar he bought and writing songs—one of which will become "Folsom Prison Blues". Cash is eventually discharged, and marries his girlfriend Vivian Liverto. The couple move to Mephis, where Cash works as a door-to-door salesman to support his growing family. He walks past a recording studio, which inspires him to organize a band to play gospel music. Cash's band auditions for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. Phillips interrupts the audition and asks Cash to play a song that he really "feels", prompting them to play "Folsom Prison Blues". The band is contracted by Sun Records.
The band begins touring as Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. He meets many different artists on tour, including June Carter, with whom Cash soon falls in love. Cash begins spending more time with June, who divorces her first husband, Carlm Smith. After an attempt by Cash to woo June backfires, he begins to take drugs and alcohol. After his behavior peaks during a performance with June, they go their separate ways. Over Vivian's objections, Johnny persuades June to come out of semi-retirement at an awards show and tour with him. The tour is a success, but backstage, Vivian is critical of June's influence. After one Las Vegas performance, Cash and June sleep together in her hotel room. The next morning, she notices Cash taking several pills and begins to doubt her choices. At that evening's concert, Cash, upset by Carter's apparent rejection, behaves erratically and eventually passes out. June disposes of Cash's drugs and begins to write "Ring of Fire", describing her feelings for Cash and her pain at watching him descend into addiction.
On his way home, Cash travels to Mexico to purchase more drugs and is arrested. Cash's marriage to Vivian begins to crumble and after a final violent dispute, the pair eventually divorce and Cash moves to Nashville in 1966. In an attempt to reconcile with June, Cash buys a large house near a lake in Hendersonville. His parents, and the extended Carter family, arrive for Thanksgiving, at which time Ray dismisses his son's achievements and behavior. After eating, June's mother—aware of her daughter's true feelings toward Cash—encourages her to help him. After a long detoxification period, Cash wakes up with June by his side. June says she, and God, have given Cash a second chance. Although not formally a couple, the two begin to spend most of their time with each other.
Cash discovers that most of his fan mail comes from prisoners, impressed with the outlaw image that Cash has cultivated. Cash visits his recording company he signed with in 1958, Columbia Records, and proposes that he record an album live inside Folsom Prison. Despite Columbia's doubts, Cash says that he will perform regardless and the label can use the tapes if they wish.
At the Folsom Prison concert, Cash tells how he always admired prisoners, explaining that his arrest for drug possession helped him to relate to them. The concert is a great success, and Cash embarks on a tour with June and his band.
While on a tour bus, Cash goes to see June in the back of the bus. Waking up June, he proposes to her, but she turns him down. At the next concert, June tells him that he is only allowed to speak with her on stage. There, Cash persuades June to join him in a duet. In the middle of the song, Cash stops playing, explaining that he cannot sing "Jachson" any more unless June agrees to marry him. June eventually accepts and they share a passionate embrace on stage.