Review: The Walk


In a post 9/11 and post recession America, it’s easy to sense a pessimism pervading our popular media. “Dark” and “gritty” are the facile adjectives for how big studios think they want to market to today’s audiences, hoping to tap into the modern zeitgeist. Indeed, it seems like there are fewer and fewer studio films that aim to be genuinely uplifting in the face of an increasingly cynical populace. It should come as a genuine shock then that two big budget studio films built on optimism should open on the same weekend. One of these films is The Walk, whose primary mission of inspiration aims to transcend a recent image of sorrow. The filmmakers behind the film may be too eager and earnest in presenting the spectacle they have in store, but their final intentions remain justified.

Phillipe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a showman by nature. Once he sets his mind to something, there is no way he will be permanently impeded. He’s a skilled magician and mime, but his real devotion is to his talents as a high wire artist. It’s the early 1970’s when he discovers an ad for what will become the tallest man made structure on Earth: The World Trade Center in New York City. From that moment on, Petit knows his fate has been sealed. Over years of planning, he gathers a team of artists, engineers, and inside men to help him achieve an impossible feat: to walk on a high wire between these two iconic towers. The logistics are insane and stakes are life and death, but the payoff for Petit is artistic immortality.

Petit’s ambition takes some grand creative thinking, a brash attitude, and arguably the biggest cahones on the planet. There’s no mistaking that The Walk itself is reflective of its subject’s outgoing but equally stubborn personality. The chief example of this is the way in which the film chooses to tell its story. Narration from Gordon-Levitt is implemented throughout, but it isn’t limited to voiceover. Petit speaks directly to camera in several asides that are separate from the action, full of Parisian gusto. The purpose of this voiceover is somewhat muddled and choppy, but ultimately endearing, depending on one’s tolerance for Petit’s larger than life monologues. Fortunately, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is eminently watchable throughout, the glimmer in his eye making his charisma feed into the personality of the real life magician. Petit is among those fascinating artists whose behavior can seem erratic and irrational, but at the most critical moments, his poise and concentration transform him. The surrounding ensemble is an eclectic group, and best among them is James Badge Dale as a former Parisian working at an electronics store who has completely blended into the role of a regular New Yorker.

The third key element that defines The Walk is the direction, and there are not many working directors known for their showmanship like Robert Zemeckis. His resume of films is well known, both unanimous and divisive, and The Walk plays like a synthesis of all of his traits. His films have been on the frontiers of CGI development, and its implementation on The Walk is almost unimpeachable. Much of the third act in which Petit begins his high wire theatrics involved the recreation of the twin towers, as well as conceiving of otherwise impossible camera setups. Added on top of this is the 3D photography, which only has occasional pleasures in the first half of the film, but truly startles in the second half. Zemeckis has been on the train for 3D long before it made its real comeback at the turn of the decade, so it’s easy to see his confidence with employing it to dazzling and even nauseating effect.

In many ways, Zemeckis is the ideal fit for this type of story, as both he and Phillipe Petit have shared tendencies to be earnest and aspirational, sometimes overbearingly so. Despite these inherent shortcomings, the real resonance of The Walk is the way that it rehabilitates the image of those two iconic towers. In the years since September 11, 2001, the images of The World Trade Center could only evoke melancholy and sorrow, knowing that these great structures are gone, as are the thousands who were in them. Instead, The Walk fondly remembers how magnificent these buildings once were, and how they played a vital role in one of the great achievements in performance art.


~ by romancinema on October 5, 2015.

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