Review: The Walk

The Walk
7 10

Reviewed from New York Film Festival 2015

PLOT: The true story of Philippe Petit's monumental high wire walk across the Twin Towers in 1974.

REVIEW:THE WALK is a whimsical, mostly entertaining and surprisingly frivolous look at Philippe Petit, the adventurous Frenchman who, in 1974, dared to walk across the Twin Towers on a high wire. Directed nimbly by Robert Zemeckis, the film is sweet and almost cartoonish, treating its subject with childlike delicacy and his incredible experience with deserved wonder. Perhaps necessarily, the film takes on Petit's personality and can often be considered quite silly, wearing its PG rating on its sleeve and coming off almost like a silent movie at times. (Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton would have loved Petit and Zemeckis' depiction of him.) There's nothing to dislike about THE WALK, although it isn't as impactful and involving as the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary about the same subject. If that film is the adult telling of the tale, THE WALK is the fantasy version.

As played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (utilizing a French accent that isn't always very French-sounding), Petit is shown to be an energetic dreamer who treats his sidewalk performances as art; he rides around Paris on a unicycle, juggles, and eventually, walks the high-wire to throngs of satisfied customers. He imagines giving a performance for an even larger audience, and when he sees a picture of the Twin Towers in a magazine, he instantly falls in love with them. The dream is born then and there, and for Petit the question is not why or how, but when. Rather quickly, Petit begins to assemble what he calls "accomplices," for he rightly assumes it'll take no shortage of criminal activity to put his plan into action. With advice coming from a crabby old circus ringmaster (Ben Kingsley, also employing a shaky accent of unknown origin) and support from his girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), Petit travels to New York with his co-conspirators to scope out the scene of his eventual triumph before embarking on the stunning, potentially fatal act.

The film's first act is fairly traditional and uninspired, with Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne hitting all the predictable beats of Petit's early years as a performer; the film's tone is kind of daffy, so much so that it could conceivably test the patience of those expecting a more dramatic re-telling of the Frenchman's life. Petit is used as a narrator, and Zemeckis frequently cuts to Gordon-Levitt atop the Statue of Liberty - overlooking lower Manhattan - as he breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience. Dare I say, this is Zemeckis in FORREST GUMP mode, giving us a character so aggressively good-natured that he frequently crosses into saccharine territory. We've heard more than enough of Petit's narration about a half-hour in, and it keeps on going throughout the movie, telling us while the movie's showing us. It's an unnecessary device that mars the overall experience.

But if we're being honest, the film's first half is just killing time for the main event, and Zemeckis doesn't disappoint when it comes to depicting Petit's long walk across the towers. Staged elegantly and masterfully, Zemeckis films the death-defying stunt in immersive detail. Every step is a heart-stopper, every gust of wind cause for a sharp intake of breath. As seen in IMAX 3D, even people without a severe fear of heights will find their palms sweating; doubly impressive when you stop to realize you know he's going to make it. Indeed, the film's early sins are forgiven with this terrific, lengthy sequence. Add to that, THE WALK's closing moments offer up a truly touching tribute to the towers themselves; Zemeckis doesn't go overboard with schmaltz or sentimentality, he gets this closing passage just right.

One concern I have is for the movie's re-watchability factor. The awe-inspiring grace of Petit's act is incredible on the big screen, but will it have the same effect - or any effect - when seen on a television? I wonder if it won't just become an unconvincing piece of CG craftsmanship. That said, there's no question THE WALK is meant to be seen on the largest screen possible; questions of its longevity were likely never on Zemeckis and company's mind.

Dodgy accent aside, Gordon-Levitt makes for a compelling and entertaining lead here. Seemingly always wearing a smile, the actor has rarely been as charming as he is here, and his physical dexterity provides an extra layer of believability to Petit's stunts. He's really the whole show too (not counting the technical wizardry on display), as most of the supporting cast is relegated to the sidelines. Le Bon is a pretty face but the film doesn't give her much to do aside from watch Petit work. (Zemeckis barely addresses the notion that Petit's tunnel vision would create tension between the two.) Kingsley lends some gravitas to his role of Petit's curmudgeonly mentor, while James Badge Dale is a standout as one of the American accomplices.

Here's my advise to those who are really curious about this story: Watch MAN ON WIRE in its entirety to fully grasp the intricate details of this caper. With that most compelling version of the tale out of the way, you can feel free to consider THE WALK a visceral supplement.

Source: JoBlo.com



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