Monday 5 October 2015

The Walk - Review by Carleton Rutter

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley and Charlotte Le Bon
Genre: Adventure, Biography, Drama
Strapline: "Every dream starts with a single step"

So, in a nutshell?
The true story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit's attempt to cross the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.

So, what are my thoughts?
​Director Robert Zemeckis has been a little quiet in recent years. His last film was Flight in 2012, now three years later he is back with The Walk, which opened the 53rd New York Film Festival. So has the 64-year-old director who hails from Chicago, famed for such movies as the Back to the Future trilogy not to mention the likes of ​Forrest Gump (1994), Contact (1997) and Cast Away (2000) managed to work his magic here, or are we left dangling?

This is not the first time ​Petit’s story has been told on the big screen. In 2008 James Marsh made the outstanding documentary film Man On Wire, which broke down the Frenchman’s prep for the performance and the subsequent public response. The Walk is Zemeckis’ fictional take on this tale.

From the acrophobia-inducing trailer, it was no secret that this movie was going to produce some sights to behold. However the question is, is there enough to support the movie's visual thrills?

The answer is, not really. First and foremost this movie was made to be shown in IMAX 3D and is as much a showcase for this medium than it is a movie in it's own right. Ironically, this movie is on solid ground when Petit is in air, it's when the proceedings come down to earth that the movie is at its rockiest. It's an amazing looking movie that offers genuine thrills on the wire but sadly coming from a director of Zemeckis's calibre is very light around the edges.

Front and centre is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who clearly immersed himself into this role. For example he learnt to speak fluent French, and coming from someone who can do the same, when he was talking la langue maternelle it was excellent, it's just a shame he had to speak English.

Further immersion went on in his training. He may not of balanced on a wire 110 stories in the air, but he was personally trained by Petit himself in a “nonstop” workshop, beginning by teaching him how to walk on a rope on the floor. By the end of his training, Gordon-Levitt could walk on a wire 10 feet in the air — and director Robert Zemeckis ended up using actual footage of Gordon-Levitt on the wire in the film.

He gives a passionate and convincing performance in the lead role, including breaking down the fourth wall as he narrates from the torch of the Statue of Liberty. When I say convincing by the way I mean he was an egotistical narrow minded French sod (I should I know I lived in France for 5 years). But at times, although taking nothing away from the actors performance, I couldn't get over the fact that I was seeing Gordon Levitt with a French accent and wearing some weird blue contact lenses. France is known for it's cinema and I know this would have not guaranteed the same box office results, but I would have cast an unknown French actor (Who resembled Petit circa 1974) who could speak English, as opposed to an American actor who had to learn French.

Levitt aside the cast is a bit of a mixed bag, Charlotte Le Bon, Petit's girlfriend is perhaps the best in support. Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy is Ben Kinsgley, but has too small a part. The other characters are not fleshed out enough and some come off a little bit too cartoonish. My issue with the movie is that the story and it's execution is just not up to par for the most part, it's only when the "The Walk" takes place, does the Zemeckis of old start to shine.

So where The Walk stands tall is for it's stunning visuals. It has a unique visual style which makes excellent use of 3D. The movie is also well scored by Zemeckis's old partner in crime Alan Silvestri. Personally for me the stars of the show was not Petit & Company but the beloved towers of the World Trade Center. The movie is a poignant and touching tribute to the Twin Towers. I had an acute sense of nostalgia and loss (I visited the Twin Towers in 1999 then Ground Zero in 2005) Seeing these tragically lost buildings being beautifully and painstakingly digitally recreated before my eyes, made it all the more real in 3D. For a moment it was like we had never lost them. The visual effects studio Atomic Fiction has outdone themselves not only in their recreation but how they take advantage of these truly magnificent buildings in light of the movies subject. There are some genuinely jaw dropping thrills to be had once Petit finally steps on that wire and for that it may well be worth the price of admission alone.

My Rating 

The Walk serves as a touching tribute to the Twin Towers as they are digitally recreated in full IMAX 3D glory. Genuine tension and thrills are to be had once Petit makes "The walk". Also, Joseph Gordon-Levitt clearly immersed himself in the role but from a veteran director of this pedigree I expected more. From the point of a view of a movie itself I would say check this one out at home, but the problem is unless you have an IMAX 3D cinema at home, which I suspect you don't then from a visual standpoint alone I recommend you hold onto your seat and make the walk.

The Walk is released from today in the UK.

Review By Carleton Rutter