Wednesday, October 14

REVIEW: The Walk

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
2015 Drama
2 hours 3 minutes
From Tri Star Pictures

Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Charlotte Le Bon
Ben Kingsley
Clément Sibony
César Domboy
James Badge Dale
Ben Schwartz
Steve Valentine

I didn't think I was going to see this movie despite my high regard for its star.  I imagined rightfully that the high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center would not occur until the end of the movie and wrongfully that everything that came before it would bore me to tears.  I had just seen Everest, which disappointed me a bit, and thought I could pass on another daredevil flick.  Experiencing heights even in my theater seat is not especially a good time for me.  So what did I do?  I bought a ticket a few days after it opened.  Go figure.

What actually tipped the scales for me was that Robert Zemeckis is its director.  His films have always interested me; I see so much TLC in them.  His characters are often so hopeful, determined to pull off the impossible.  I am thinking of the Back to the Future series, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Forrest Gump and Cast Away.  Of course there's also Death Becomes Her, Romancing the Stone, Who Shot Roger Rabbit and Flight.  Zemeckis usually employs a stunning mix of trickery with his special effects.  Putting it all together, we are not only highly entertained but now we have The Walk which seems like it should be on the top of the pile.

It is the true story of Frenchman Philippe Petit, who on an August morning in 1974, successfully walked between the twin towers.  I'm certainly not giving away anything to tell you it was successful.  If you think this information is going to prevent your heart from wanting to beat right out of your body, you couldn't be more mistaken.  His walk has been well-documented in the book, To Reach the Clouds, on which this film is based, and in the Oscar-winning documentary, Man on Wire.

The last part of the film is thrilling but I found the first part necessary and interesting to say the least.  Petit, who is also a mime, a juggler and a unicyclist performs all on the streets of Paris.  But he is also consumed with doing a high-wire act which he first saw as a child at a circus. 

A circus performer extraordinaire, played by Ben Kingsley, reluctantly teaches the eager young man the tricks of the trade.  Petit is beyond excited and does some practicing as he also gathers some folks who will help him.  He calls them accomplices.  When he decides to make the walk between the as-yet-uncompleted towers, all are aware it is highly illegal but the others have become nearly as captivated by the prospect as Petit is.

By the time the group reaches Manhattan, tasks need to be undertaken with careful maneuvering to avoid being caught by workers and security guards in the buildings.  Plans and timing are discussed in explicit detail for the walk that will take place at dawn.  I found it interesting that they would work through the night, rigging the towers with the steel cables, which would mean Petit would perform his dangerous feat without sleeping the night before.  And that night is not without mishap and there are several occasions when it appears it will not happen.  Dig your fingernails into the arms of your seat or the arm of the person who's with you.

The walk itself is nothing short of dazzling, thanks to exquisite special effects and photography.  Many times Gordon-Levitt is shot from above so that as an audience one is never unaware of how high up he is.  My initial expectation, before buying a ticket, that the height scenes would have me feeling a bit queasy were right on.  How people do what he did is beyond anything I can imagine.

Gordon-Levitt serves as a narrator throughout the film, both on screen and voiceover.  It is often necessary because of trying to work through the French language (which is frequently subtitled) but also to handle transition.  When he is onscreen narrating, he is perched up in the lamp of the Statue of Liberty, looking across the bay at the twin towers... a novel idea, an exciting experience.

There is not a misstep from any of the cast but of course it is Gordon-Levitt in nearly every frame and he pulls it off with panache.

It was a breathtaking film to view in 3D... one of the best of that technology.

Of course the twin towers were reproduced thanks to the magic of special effects.  But they were also produced with a lot of heart, none more so than the film's final shot.  It certainly brought a lump to my throat.

Next posting:
Another movie review

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