The Walk: Film Review
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Essentially a paean to the Twin Towers, Robert Zemeckis' The Walk rarely builds on the story of Philippe Petit so tightly unwound in thrilling doco Man On Wire.
For those uninitiated in Petit's story, the Frenchman made world headlines when back on August 7, 1974, he walked between the newly constructed North and South towers of the World Trade Centre. Without any kind of safety net or without any other reason other than the ones cited by those who are asked why they climb mountains.
But given that the planned high-wire act was illegal, Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had to plan his coup - and recruit accomplices to the escapade.
So, all the elements are in place for a high stakes heist and a thrilling film.
However, what Zemeckis delivers is more of a zany caper film that revels in the showmanship of its subject and plays a smoke and mirrors game with its protagonist. Distracting us with unoriginal 3D at the start as various juggling batons and balls are thrown through the screen and employing a narrative device where Petit narrates his own story from atop the Statue of Liberty, The Walk is more concerned with making a big top sideshow of the whole affair rather than letting the action and the story speak for itself.
And it's horrendously distracting to be continually taken out of the moment as this balancing act progresses and the reliance on this narrative tic grows.
Swathed in his black outfits, Gordon-Levitt's Petit borders on irritating as he prances around, an arrogant protagonist determined to get his way and achieve his dream whatever the cost. Softening his arrogance a touch is Annie, played with a degree of charm by Charlotte Le Bon, but even she can't cut through the hyperbole and the dramatic verbal flourishes the script has bestowed on Petit.
Complete with swing music and big beat sounds, The Walk has caper coursing through its very veins - and the stakes are reminiscent of an Ocean's 11 with key moments precipitating the drama and throwing obstacles in the way - an accomplice who's scared of heights, a nail on a construction site, they're all on hand to punctuate the drama and provide the suspense. But they sit ill at ease with the comedic tone that's gone prior.
And yet, the quieter moments when Zemeckis eases off the silliness actually soar.
The recreation of Petit's first steps out on to the wire and we see everything melt away around him so that all there is is the wire and the clouds speaks volumes to his reasoning for doing what he does. Finally, Zemeckis gets that a picture paints a thousand words and it's here the film captures the essence of Petit's derring-do and the core of his character, with some jaw-dropping moments that will cause issues to those of a vertiginous nature.
It's a high-wire balancing act, sometimes, this version of The Walk.
At times, it seems interested in following Petit's folly - but throughout, the film, from its very beginning shot on the Statue of liberty with the Twin Towers in the background to the golden fade out shot of those two monuments, it actually ends up being more of a love letter to the towers and everything else - including Petit's high-wire show - is purely and sadly incidental.