DIR: Robert Zemeckis • WRI:Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne • PRO: Jack Rapke, Tom Rothman, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Jeremiah O’Driscoll • MUS: Alan Silvestri • DES: Naomi Shohan • CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon
If you ever take anything away from these reviews let it be this – do not go see The Walk in the IMAX if you’ve had a few too many the previous night. I went to an early screening, fresh as a daisy and sober as a judge, and still was close to painting the always spotless cinema floors with my Eggs Benedict. Apparently, I am not the only one whose tummy got violently ravaged by a swarm of butterflies that mild September morn. It would seem there is a mild hysteria surrounding Robert Zemeckis’ new RealD 3D extravaganza that is causing viewers to become nauseous. There are even reports of people bailing the screening with intent to puke. No, this film doesn’t have a young girl cursing out Christ and masturbating with a crucifix, but a rather Peter Pan look alike trapezing between the World Trade Centre.
It might sound cartoonish and it is, but that’s the direction in which Zemeckis chooses to go with in The Walk, not to mention incorporating his patented Disneyfied dream chasing philosophy that’s present in Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Polar Bear Express. The 2008 Man On A Wire documentary about Philippe Petit’s breathtaking stunt portrayed enough raw reality that attempting to reenact it through a Hollywood feature would be futile. Zemeckis’ main concern is the spectacle and the technical preparation it took to reach that spectacle. We are introduced to the biographical movie by Petit, played cheekily by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who breaks the fourth wall from upon the Statue of Liberty to help nudge the narrative along. It’s children’s story-time etiquette and in many ways The Walk is a kid’s movie, certainly in terms of style and presentation.
The film boasts a palette of cinematic proportions. Petit’s younger days in Paris as a street performer are shot in black and white, except for the props essential to his act, which are presented in sharp bright colours. These early scenes have a Parisian vibrancy about them that is enhanced by a rattling jazz score. We track further back to his childhood, to when he first fell in love with high-wire artistry and his first encounter with his semi-mentor, Papa Rudi, played by Ben Kingsley. When we fast forward to Paris again, Petit becomes romantically involved with Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who’s inanimate chic. Slowly he is moulding his accomplices that will help his dream come true.
None of these other characters really matter though, they are in a way just extra props for Petit’s act. There is no insight to them and they are all too easily persuaded by Petit to help him in his highly dangerous, expensive and illegal operation. It’s a one man show, two man including the dreaded wire, and that’s where the tension and suspense lies – on the wire. The anxiety builds and develops through various stages throughout the movie as his tight-rope walks get higher and higher, foreshadowing the biggest walk of them all that we all must suffer through.
The movie is about a stunt, but is disguised as a heist flick. They are pulling a caper, but instead bailing with the cash, they’re soaring for liberty – well they’re French init? The method and preparation for pulling off this stunt is highly intricate and Zemeckis takes us through the whole process on D-day. There are even Hitchcockian moments of suspense as Petit and his crew set up the wires across the two towers. Petit struggles against intruding security guards and disloyal acolytes throughout his mission, and this is even before he walks that tightrope.
Eventually, we get the money shot, the spectacle, the wooziness and in IMAX 3D it truly is gargantuan. Zemeckis has stated that he and his team aspired to induce vertigo and in this department he did not fail. Albeit, for all its skill and digital trickery, The Walk does not induce greatness, rather a playful and sometimes dizzying 3D ride, that works well in its own right. The movie in a way reflects the notion of cinema itself, and begs to be seen in theatres on the biggest screen, urging for audiences to experience an event rather than passively “Netflix and chill”. In theory, Zemeckis’ request is admirable and one that I correspond to, but on screen there have been better representatives.
PG (See IFCO for details)
The Walk is released 2nd October 2015