(12A, 135 mins): Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick, Shelby Lynne, Dallas Roberts, Tyler Hilton, Waylon Malloy Payne and Johnathan Rice. Directed by James Mangold.

With a voice like a cement mixer filled with pebbles and pain and a personal life rife with demons, drugs and depression, the ballad of Johnny Cash is ripe like a tour bus fart for big screen realisation.

Okay, so every sonic superstar worth his or her salt has a back catalogue of abusive childhood, narcotic dependency and rocky relationships while finding a voice in the power of their music, but they all pale in the shadow of the man in black - a fella so damn tough, even hardened murderers would kneel at his feet.

Book-ended by Cash's epoch-making performance at California's Folsom Prison, James Mangold's biopic takes in the singer's miserable childhood in Arkansas, his national service in Germany and attempts to get a gospel group off the ground while supporting a young family. But the show really takes off when Johnny finds his voice and learns to sing from his (pierced) heart.

With his "steady like a train, sharper than a razor" sound, his popularity gains momentum but it is his penchant for pharmaceuticals and an allconsuming love for sprightly country star June Carter that slowly takes him down, down, down into the depths of self-destruction.

Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon excel as Cash and Carter - the first impressively conveying the burden that weighed the great man down, the second exuding the spunky zest and affable charm that made her the muse for so many of his classic tunes.

As well as stretching their acting muscles with career-best turns, Phoenix and Witherspoon stretch their larynxes with amazing singing impersonations that sound very nearly as good as the real thing. Lending a feeling of vitality to the proceedings that lip syncing could never have achieved, it is in the musical sections that the film truly soars.

Sure, there are enough life-story cliches to fill a detox centre, not always helped by Mangold's decision to fall back on oft-utilised motifs (musical montage anyone?), but with songs that should come pre-loaded on every iPod, it's an excellent tribute to the baddest man who ever did play.