The Walk (3D)
Cert: PG / 123 mins / Dir. Robert Zemeckis / Trailer
Not convinced by the trailer? Don't worry, I wasn't either. I struggled to see how Robert Zemeckis was going to make a compelling movie about a subject which is already documented on page and on film. But The Walk is much more than a series of escalating events (no pun intended), instead it gets inside the head - and heart - of wire-walker Philippe Petit, and ends up being three movies in one.
The first act follows Philippe through his childhood and adolescence, showing his fascination with performance acrobatics first in rural France, then to Paris, and his idea for the World Trade Centre walk. From the very beginning, Zemeckis is keen to highlight that this is a true story, with a massive title card informing the audience of such. And yet this section of the film is also the least convincing, as the director employs an array of techniques to keep pulling the viewer out of the story and create a strong sense of artiface; be it the fourth-wall-breaking on-screen dialogue from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit as he narrates the major points of his life from the top of an astoundingly false looking Statue of Liberty*1, the black-and-white scenes with bursts of colour injected, Ben Kingsley's voice*2, or even just the heavily stylised filming of the scenes which aren't designed to catch your eye, particularly. At this point, it almost feels like Zemeckis is saying that the truth of the story isn't enough, that it has to be embellished with spectacle and exaggeration. It doesn't bode well, and I still wasn't convinced.
However, once Philippe arrives permanently in New York and begins assembling a team of accomplices to help him achieve his unauthorised and highly-illegal walk between the towers, the film becomes an energetic heist-movie, not unlike American Hustle, complete with JGL donning a number of disguises as he cases the still-incomplete South Tower with a view to infiltrating it with all of his wire-apparatus. It's at this point that the chemistry between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Charlotte Le Bon really kicks in, and they're fantastic together even if their combined screen-time is relatively short. This is also the act which features the comic relief from the misfits Philippe recruits, partly because of their skills, but also through sheer desperation. Additionally, it's here that the director seems to delight in homaging his own Back To The Future movies*3, as he's already got Alan Silvestri to score the film, and then goes on to show his love of a) ominous thunderstorms in the lead-up to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, b) fascinatingly detailed architectural maquettes, painstakingly over-built to illustrate only one point, and c) steel cables and ratchets. Lots of ratchets. The heist-act is a lot of fun, by this point I was well onboard.
But it's act-three, the final stretch, the walk itself, which everyone's come for and this is where Zemeckis really shines. The Walk becomes a film not about the technicalities of stringing a wire between two buildings, nor about the adulation and amazement coming from the streets below while that's done, but about the performance art itself. About testing your own limits and doing something unique purely because you can (with a lot of help from your friends, of course). Far from being the hyper-tense tale of hubris that the trailer hints at, it's a film about freedom on a personal and artistic level. Philippe refers to the planning and execution of his walk as le coup, but despite the authorities (eventually) becoming involved, there's nothing either political or egotistical about his actions; it's just something he has to do for himself.
Then, almost as a post-script to the story, Zemeckis' film deftly delivers a metaphorical love-letter to the Twin Towers, but again it's a one which manages to steer well clear of any mawkishness or politics somehow; not mourning their loss, but just celebrating their existence. A carefully crafted final sequence shows the towers as beacons of hope and possibility, of Philippe's dream and everything he did to achieve it. A reminder that people may think you're crazy (in fact, you very well might be), but all the time it's your dream, you're the only one who can chase it properly. And a reminder that the best art is created for the sake of art itself.
The unspoken fate of the buildings aside, any film which can make a wooly-yet-cynical liberal like me misty-eyed over two monuments to naked, unabashed capitalism - in today's climate - is doing something very right, indeed.
Go and see The Walk...
It is, and in 3D as well. There a fewer 'fairground thrill-simulator shots' in there than you'd think (although there are several, obviously), but much like The Martian, this is one of the rare examples of a live-action movie which looks great in 3D.
Seriously, much of the effect will be lost on the small screen (unless your telly's massive), but this will be one to buy. Once the price drops, naturally.
Accent quibbles aside, JGL's on great form here.
Which is ridiculous, because there is the perfect spot for it, too.
The film stars James Badge Dale and Ben Kingsley, both of whom appeared in Iron Man 3, along with Jon 'Pre Vizsla' Favreau.
*1 And like I said, this first act is specifically designed to not be a documentary, but how come in some of the shots of Petit narrating, the wind machine's turned on to simulate standing exposed to the elements 150 feet in the air, but in other's it's not and everything's just deathly still? I know I'm not meant to believe it Zemeckis, but you could at least pretend you're trying to convince me…
*2 Oh, and fair play to Kingsley here as Petit's mentor and trainer, Rudy. Levitt's introductory narration tells us that "Papa Rudy never said exactly where he was from…", which gives Ben carte blanche to employ a wildly-roaming non-specific European drawl for the rest of the film, which seems to change with each scene he's in. Half of me suspects that this is a deliberate tie-in with his advice to Philippe when he tells him "Never be insincere on stage, it must come from here. The audience will know if you're lying". Because for all his shop-demonstration-mode vocal acrobatics, he plays his role perfectly (more importantly, his accent doesn't matter, although JGL's might)…
*3 There's also a sort of homage to 1985's Ghostbusters too, in the form of people standing on the streets of New York, looking at the top of a building they can't really see properly and ooh-ing and aah-ing. Although this is less of an intentional reference than an unavoidable one, I suspect.
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
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