Saturday, October 17, 2015

"The Walk" Review: A Crazy Stunt Translates Into A Surprisingly Incredible Film-going Experience

Robert Zemeckis has given us so many great cinematic memories that it is almost hard to fathom anyone other than perhaps other than perhaps Steven Spielberg who has him beat when it comes to the sheer number of excellent films he has on his resume. From Back to the Future, Romancing the Stone, Cast Away, Contact and Forrest Gump, Zemeckis is no doubt a master filmmaker, heck even his Beowulf wasn't half bad. Unlike other people in the business *cough* George Lucas *cough* he has been able to keep up the quality in all his work which is a feat unto itself. So is it any wonder that his new film The Walk continues this tradition of quality movies? No, not really. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: IMAX 3D Digital             
Film Rating: PG
Film Runtime:  2 hr 3 min
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release Date: October 9, 2015

Loves: Robert Zemeckis
Likes: Joseph Gordon Levitt, impossible true stories
Neutral:  The sad fact that the towers had to be computer creations
Hates: Imagining having to watch this on a small screen
Want to know how much of this is true?: Watch the documentary Man On Wire.

Back in 1974 the two largest buildings in the world were about to finish construction. Those two buildings were of course the World Trade Center towers. Standing over 100 stories tall they were a testament to what man could achieve and captured the imaginations of anyone lucky enough to see them in person. However, there was one person's imagination it captured more than any others and this person wasn't even a resident of New York city, heck he wasn't even a resident of the United States. This person was a Philippe Petit, a Frenchman who had a passion for walking tightropes otherwise known as wire work. While he had pursued his dream ever since he was a child to perform for others on his wire, it wasn't until that fateful day he discovered the majesty of the World Trade Center that he knew what that dream actually was.

The story of Philippe Petit and the ridiculously dangerous plot he cooked up to walk a tightrope across the twin towers is one of those tales that is so crazy that it just has to be true because no one in their right mind would ever think up such an asinine idea. No one that is expect for Phillipe who was dead set on taming the World Trade Center with his superlative wire work. We learn early on as the film thrusts us into the life and times of Phillipe across the pond where his entire existence is seemingly devoted to finding some place to put his wire and subsequently conquer it. This is the crux of the film and the basic theme that is followed through all the way to that inevitable moment when he steps out on to that wire hundreds of stories above New York's unsuspecting populace.

There is no doubt that anyone would find Phillipe's story of a life long ambition driven by madness intriguing, but the trick that Zemeckis had as a filmmaker was how to make the journey to that point interesting as well. He accomplishes this feat by employing two very important techniques, the first of which is casting Joseph Gordon Levitt in the lead role as Phillipe. Now usually it is frowned upon casting someone in a role they have no real association with, especially an American trying to play French, as it often times feels forced simply to put a name on the marquee other than because they fit the part. Levitt proves that any naysayers should bite their tongue on this one because with a whimsical performance and a near flawless French accent he hits it out the park here.

He has double duty to pull as well acting as our protagonist and our narrator, the latter of which is in some ways the more important role and the second technique employed by Zemeckis. While having a narrator can be distracting if done incorrectly or just plain overused, Zemeckis realizes that in order for the audience to understand the madness of Philippe we need to hear for ourselves the reasons, as crazy as they may be, behind stunt from the horses mouth and it works brilliantly. As we watch the many stages of evolution that Philippe goes through during his early wire work career where he meets his mentor (Ben Kingsley), his girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and his soon to be best friend Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), it is important that we always have a handle on his motivations which would be impossible without a ton of exposition that would likely just tire the audience out.

From a screenplay perspective the decision to turn the film into a sort of caper flick was a masterstroke as it not only helps the audience get engaged with the characters as they attempt to pull a fast one on everyone but also adds a much needed sense of fun of mischief to the proceedings. Now, this isn't the French Ocean's Eleven or anything but the lengths that Philippe and his ever growing crew of helpers go to are in some ways even more exciting than anything in that flick simply because THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED. Yes, as unbelievable as it may seem, most of everything we see go down is verbatim to what actually occurred on that fateful day of August 6th, 1974.

All of this would be of little interest unless the actual event itself were worth the trip and while it is likely far from the exhilaration that Philippe himself felt while crossing that wire back in 74', Zemeckis captures the moment on film flawlessly. Wisely deciding against playing the moment up with a loud invasive score or over editing it to build tension he lets the entire sequence play out in a normal manner. There is a serene beauty to the scene that is difficult to describe but perfectly understood while watching it on the big screen (the only way to see this by the way is in IMAX 3D). Even when the cops show up there is an unparalleled restraint in regards to trying to make it exciting instead opting to let the event speak for itself which funny enough is more exciting and tension fueled than any sort of bombastic score or hyper editing could achieve.

Now is the film perfect, no but what is? The only real gripe to hold against the film is something that nobody could do anything about. That is of course that all the scenes at the World Trade Center are special effects or recreations. Once again, there isn't anything Zemeckis could do about this and I would like to believe if the towers were still there he would have gone to some lengths to incorporate as much real footage of them as possible. But the unfortunate side effect to this impossible situation is that sometimes, not often, but sometimes there is an artificial feeling to the entire final sequence that really can't be explained. It just feels off every now and then but we are immediately drawn back in with every footstep Philippe takes to his destiny.

The Walk is a great film and an even better theatrical experience. There are fewer and fewer films that are required theatrical viewing experiences with the last two in recent memory being Christoper Nolan's Interstellar and George Miller's Mad Max Fury Road. The Walk may not be as exciting or groundbreaking as either of those two masterpieces of cinema but it does something neither of them were able to do, it gets into our soul. Sitting there watching Phillipe walk his wire was one of the most subtle and exhilarating experiences I had all year at the movies and you shouldn't waste this opportunity to see the beauty of Philippe's glorious madness for yourself.


Were there better movies than this released this year? Sure, but The Walk is almost more than just a movie, it is an experience. Sure, all the stuff leading up to that moment on the wire is fairly standard stuff but this is one of those rare moments in film where the destination is actually better than the journey to get there, but the journey is a lot of fun as well. If you think for one moment about writing it off as just some silly movie about a guy who walks on a wire then you aren't just selling the movie short you are also denying yourself one of most purely beautiful experiences you will see in theaters this year.

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