Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Movie Review: The Walk

The Walk
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis.
Written by: Robert Zemeckis & Christopher Browne based on the book by Philippe Petit.
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Philippe Petit), Charlotte Le Bon (Annie), James Badge Dale (Jean-Pierre / J.P.), Ben Kingsley (Papa Rudy), Clément Sibony (Jean-Louis), César Domboy (Jeff / Jean-François), Ben Schwartz (Albert), Steve Valentine (Barry Greenhouse), Mark Camacho (Guy Tozolli), Benedict Samuel (David).

The actual walk in The Walk – that makes up the last third of the movie or so – is stunning – one of the best sequences of its kind you will ever see, and demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with the best possible 3-D. Normally, I don’t 3-D, but the work here is clearly the best in a mainstream movie since Gravity – and easily ranks among the best  3-D the medium has produced since they’ve gone 3-D crazy in recent years. It is simply dizzying and awe-inspiring – and if that sounds like hyperbole, well, it kind of is – but not too much. That alone makes the movie worth seeing.

That sequence is so good in fact that you want to overlook much of the rest of the movie, that is filled with sloppy storytelling, and moments that are trying way too hard to make things seem more important than they are. The film has a goofy spirit that I quite liked – anchored by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who goes wonderfully over-the-top in every way, especially the accent, in his performance as Frenchman Philippe Petit, who in 1974 strung a high wire up between the Twin Towers of the WTC and walked back and forth on it. If you really want to see Petit’s story, than you should watch the Oscar winning documentary by James Marsh – Man on Wire from 2008 – which does a much better job telling his story, and connecting what he did in 1974, with what the Towers would eventually come to represent. For the most part, The Walk treats everything like a heist movie – with Petit assembling his crack (and not so crack) team in the hopes of pulling off his “coup”. He knows he has limited time – the towers are just about complete, and when they are it will become impossible to do what he needs to do.

The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has always been on the cutting edge of technology, but often the films he makes lag behind their technical achievement. I’m not a Forrest Gump hater like some, but there’s little doubt that then the groundbreaking special effects are more impressive than the movie as whole. Zemeckis also spent far too long working in motion capture animation – films like The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol – which were groundbreaking in their own way, if not precisely great. Long ago now are the days when Zemeckis combined both the groundbreaking visuals with a truly great story, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Personally, I quite liked his last film – Flight, with its excellent performance by Denzel Washington, but that seemed more like Zemeckis edging back into live action filmmaking after his decade immersed in animation.

I’m not sure The Walk is truly groundbreaking – but it is an amazing use of 3-D technology that actually deepens the visuals, and gives them a feel that just cannot be replicated without it. The whole time Petit is on that wire, between the Twin Towers the film is amazing. The rest of it is fairly average – and sometimes worse. Zemeckis takes his time getting to that wire – and to be honest, I got rather impatient at times. I also could have done without Gordon-Levitt’s narration – particularly over the walk itself – but really through the whole movie. It’s a distraction, and not really needed.

So I’m torn on The Walk. On one hand, I really want everyone to see it, on the biggest screen imaginable, because the film gives you an experience not quite like anything else. On the other hand, everything that leads up to that Walk is mediocre at best. If you could walk into the theater with about 45 minutes to go, that would probably be ideal. But even if you watch the whole thing, you’ll have a decent time at the beginning – and be blown away at the end. Not a bad deal really.

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