The Walk (2015)

walk_2015_poster
  • Time: 100 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Biography | Drama
  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Cast: Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon

Storyline:

Twelve people have walked on the moon, but only one man – Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – has ever, or will ever, walk in the immense void between the World Trade Center towers. Guided by his real-life mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), and aided by an unlikely band of international recruits, Petit and his gang overcome long odds, betrayals, dissension and countless close calls to conceive and execute their mad plan. Robert Zemeckis, the director of such marvels as Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future, Polar Express and Flight, again uses cutting edge technology in the service of an emotional, character-driven story. With innovative photorealistic techniques and IMAX 3D wizardry, The Walk is true big-screen cinema, a chance for moviegoers to viscerally experience the feeling of reaching the clouds. The film, a PG-rated, all-audience entertainment for moviegoers 8 to 80, unlike anything audiences have seen before, is a love letter to Paris and New York City in the 1970s, but most of all, to the Towers of the World Trade Center.

6 reviews

  • Les carrottes sont cuites. Sorry, you don’t understand French or any of idioms? Yes, but you appreciate them anyways (It means the die are cast, or literally, the carrots are cooked). Their appreciation of food and the arts. Their admiration for love and passion. One man in particular, a high-wire artist, saw the World Trade Center Towers nearing completion and decided to walk between the void of both towers. Once Philippe Petit saw an image of the Twin Towers, the die was already cast.

    As a street artist and high-wire artist, Philippe was always pushing himself to the next level. But once he decided to walk across the two tallest buildings in the world, he set out with his girlfriend, mentor, and a strange collection of people to pull the artistic “coup” of the century. Of course, sneaking onto a construction site where hundreds of people worked was not going to be an easy task.

    Most movies that focus on one particular event rely heavily on how the audience will respond when finally seeing what they have waited hours to see. But in The Walk, we aren’t just treated to a merely three minutes of him walking on the wire.

    Oh no.

    We see him do it.

    MULTIPLE times.

    The high-wire walk has so much screen time, that even those who embrace and welcome high altitudes will experience vertigo before the scene is over.

    The Walk, however, ironically runs through the entire film much too quickly, as the relationship between Philippe and his girlfriend, Annie, quickly dissolves into nothing more but a one-dimensional relationship. Charlotte Le Bon, who plays Annie, begins as another local street artist in Paris, only to be demoted to a cheerleader that watches as he accomplishes his dream. What is more is that once Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) and Philippe share a mentor-apprentice moment, Papa too is all but forgotten.

    Sure, the narration Philippe provides us does slow down the pace for us, but only when alluding to his coup, nothing else. We get it, Philippe is a French, arrogant, anarchist artist, whose dream pushes him to new heights (yes, I went there). Joseph Gordon-Levitt does Philippe justice (the jury on his French accent is still out). But besides the walk, Philippe didn’t talk about the appreciation he had for Papa, or for Annie. Bump up the rating to PG-13, and we might have been able to see a fight or two break out in the movie, showing more of a darker, emotional, wound up artist.

    Robert Zemeckis, both writer and director of The Walk, has brought us visionary effects that have impressed us over the decades, from Forrest Gump, to Cast Away and The Polar Express. But here, besides the visionary experience, the magic that Philippe experienced that year in 1974 was lost in the midst of the coup.

    The Walk is an ode to the Twin Towers, and the magic and soul it was given after the high-wire event. Its complexion, height, and ability to make one fall intensely in love with it, is a visual sonnet that the Twin Towers finally received in our post 9/11 world. Seeing the plan being executed, along with the performance being done provides a vertigo inducing memorable experience, but overall, couldn’t bring emotional to the story.

  • Never forget. The Walk urges us to remember and celebrate.

    Post-9/11, the Twin Towers have been a tricky proposition for filmmakers, who have either digitally deleted their appearance (as was the case in 2002’s Spider-Man, Zoolander, and other films released not too long after the terrorist attacks) or, in more recent times, deployed them as a brief marker to reinforce the film’s setting (Ten Thousand Saints). The towers have been drenched in a bittersweet, sacrosanct nostalgia since their destruction – their existence cannot be ignored, but lingering on them may dredge up too painful memories.

    There is no escaping the towers in The Walk, director Robert Zemeckis’ extraordinary tribute to the World Trade Center that is also a virtuosic recreation of Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between the structures. What Zemeckis does more than anything else in this film is to restore the joy and innocence of those towers, transporting the viewers to a time, a moment, when magic overrode cynicism and when the impossible brought a city and the world together.

    For those who saw James Marsh’s involving 2008 documentary Man on Wire, the question of why The Walk needed to be made at all, the scrutiny of fact versus dramatic license, and the dilution of Petit’s egomania may irritate. Yet Marsh’s film lacked the money shot – footage of Petit’s brilliant aerial feat. Zemeckis may follow a comparatively linear narrative but, whatever one thinks of the build-up, there is no denying the payoff.

    The film, adapted from Petit’s memoir To Reach the Clouds, first sees the scampish Petit (an emotionally and physically nimble Joseph Gordon-Levitt) perched in the Statue of Liberty’s torch with the cityscape of early-’70s lower Manhattan behind him. “Why?” he asks directly to camera. “Why do I risk death?” For Petit, “to walk on the wire is life.” He proceeds to narrate his tale, remembering the first time he saw a wirewalker in the circus and how, with the help of circus ringleader and former high-wire artist Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), he learned to walk the wire, feel its tension, and listen to its language.

    It is love at first sight when Petit spies an illustration of the towers in a magazine article announcing their near-completion. From that moment onwards, he resolves to fulfill his dream of walking between the two towers. Zemeckis and co-screenwriter Christopher Browne chart the progression as Petit walks a tightrope that’s barely a foot off the ground to one that’s stretched out over a lake to one connected between the cathedral spires of Notre Dame. The filmmakers do the same with the towers, first seen as illustration then a miniature recreation then a larger-scale model before the actual towers make their genuine entrance into the tale. In this way, Zemeckis establishes height and scale and, once Petit finally encounters the towers for the first time, the act of looking up or looking down is a mindful one, not just for Petit but for the audience as well.

    History, especially a tragic history, tends to smooth over certain things. Post-9/11, people forget that the buildings were viewed as ugly and utilitarian at the time of their creation and infancy. Petit’s walk is credited with injecting them with character and personality, and The Walk reinforces their symbiosis. When Petit touches his chin to the base of the tower, the camera shoots up the tower’s side as if to follow the life force coursing through the steel, concrete and glass. Later, as he runs down the logistics of his insane obsession with his accomplices, mentions will be made of how the cables and the buildings must work together in harmony to support Petit.

    If The Walk strikes one as guileless and gee-whiz at times, it is wholly appropriate and excusable. Zemeckis wants the audience to wallow in disbelief at a time when flimsy disguises, suspicious behaviour and outright masquerade were not grounds for immediate imprisonment or accusations of terrorism. Perhaps many would argue that Petit is made to be more of a lovable, mischievous imp but the difficulties of working with a man of such uncompromising, single-minded focus are not ignored. He is reprimanded by his girlfriend Annie (the luminous Charlotte Le Bon) for not acknowledging the team’s efforts. Why should I? he wonders since he is the one who will ultimately be responsible for his own fate. Yet when one of his accomplices embraces him before he takes that fateful first step, Gordon-Levitt fully conveys Petit’s realisation that the dream is not his alone, but all of theirs as well.

    It’s near impossible not to rhapsodise over that stunning set piece as the film takes us 110 stories off the ground and places us alongside Petit as he moves one foot in front of the other on what seems to be the thinnest of wires with nothing but air between him and the city below. We may never understand Petit’s motivations, but we understand the sensation of being taken into another realm. Dariusz Wolski’s swooping camera magnifies the wonder of the walk as well as the ensuing absurdity of the standoff between Petit and the police at both towers. The seen-it-all New York cops can only stare helplessly and admiringly at a man whose accomplishment is beyond imagining.

    Sublime and poignant, with an unexpected force of emotion, The Walk is a majestic and exhilarating ode to determination, resilience, and the beauty of remembrance.

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  • (Rating: ☆☆☆ out of 4)

    This film is recommended.

    In brief: With some missteps aside, the film still entertains.

    GRADE: B

    In 1974, a man named Philippe Petit, an acrobat and street performer, made his longtime dream become a reality. He organized a group of friends to help him walk between the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center. This stunt made him famous worldwide and is the basis for Robert Zemeckis’ latest film, The Walk.

    The story itself is a fascinating subject and the film tries for the most part to reconstruct this dangerous and foolhardy mission with much success. (Prior to this reincarnation was an Oscar-winning documentary, Man on Wire, which is a far better and factual retelling on this true event and a better option if one wants to learn more about this incident.) This fictionalized version is still highly entertaining on the big screen.

    Director Zemeckis is a talented craftsman and his earlier films (Forest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Flight) have combined live action and CGI to masterful results. This one, however, never reaches the heights (pun intended) due to two glaring, how do you say in French…ah yes, faux pas: the miscasting in the lead role and a conventional script that never develops its characters very well. While the film is technically proficient, especially in the scenes depicting the exciting logistics of the stunt, the flashback of Petit’s life remain commonplace and cliche-ridden. (Special kudos to the prolific cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski and Alan Silvestri’s moody film score.)

    Playing Petit is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The actor may have the physical movements of this man down pat, but his pseudo French vocal delivery keeps his character at arm’s length. This may be this gifted actor’s weakest performance to date. He tries valiantly, but he never quite walks the walk of this crazed showman. Faring better in their supporting roles are Charlotte Le Bon as his lover, Clément Sibony César Domboy, and James Badge Dale as his partners-in-crime, and Sir Ben Kingsley as his persnickety mentor.

    At fault is the badly rote (wrote?) screenplay by Christopher Browne and the director which takes too many missteps in its execution. The film overly romanticizes this daredevil tale of a dreamer achieving his goal with a sentimental idealism which defeats the overall venture. Characters talk in hyperbole, never in conversations that seem natural. However, the aforementioned photography is stunning to behold and his creative use of 3D is groundbreaking with his skewed perspectives, dizzying highs and lows, and panoramic vistas. A technical triumph.

    Still, while most of the CGI effects were very well accomplished, others lacked authenticity.  Particularly jarring were some of the far-away distant shots of Petit on the wire that looked artificial and unreal and an awkward appearance of a red-eyed symbolic white bird that was as phony as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Pepe Le Pew awful-sounding French accent. The narrative scenes with Petit talking directly to the audience while atop the Statue Of Liberty had an off-putting effect too, only accentuating the contrived monologue that JGL is forced to deliver in the heaviest of accents that is, at times, unintentionally embarrassing and downright laughable.

    The Walk does spin an interesting tale, but ultimately loses its footing along the way.

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  • With his unique way of slipping into roles like some confident chameleon, you might as well belly up and call Joseph Gordon-Levitt a full-blown movie star. He can headline anything that an a-lister takes on. Whether he’s imitating Bruce Willis (Looper), playing a likable muscle head (Don Jon), or just slinging high stakes at poker (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), this once adorable child actor is now the real deal. Bring on Snowden even if it is in delayed release.

    Anyway, if you are afraid of heights, it might be difficult to watch certain portions or especially the last bit of his 2015 release, The Walk (my latest review). This film is based on the true story of Philippe Petit, a high-wire artist who caught the world’s attention sauntering across the Twin Towers (of the World Trade Center). Directed by special effects maestro Robert Zemeckis, “Walk” has Petit (played with heavy discipline and a broad French accent by Gordon-Levitt) traveling 140 feet on a thick, heavy cable. It’s a moment that you need to see to believe.

    Zemeckis nurturing the concept of 3D on his mind, shoots The Walk as if he’s revisiting his own Forrest Gump (1994’s Best Picture winner). Tom Hanks sat on a bench and narrated most of that epic in flashback. Here, Gordon-Levitt does the same thing but from high atop the Statue of Liberty. The difference between the two films is simple: “Gump” is more epic with storytelling that’s not negligible. “Walk” isn’t plotless yet not enough seems at stake. The trailer looked mighty compelling. The end result is breezy and almost comical in nature.

    Having its climatic gesture taking place in August of 1974 and its running time clocking in at just over two hours, The Walk chronicles Philippe’s drive and passion, his relentless persona of being difficult to the people who work for him. You see he wants to be the greatest wirewalker known to man and while living in France, he injures his tooth (street performing). In the waiting room at the dentist office, he sees a picture of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers (mentioned earlier). Petit becomes obsessed. During “Walk’s” next hour or so, he trains heavily with each wire becoming longer and longer in length and higher and higher off the ground. Eventually, he finds his way to New York City traveling with his cutesy girlfriend (Anne played by Charlotte Le Bon). They befriend a photographer, a life insurance salesman, a stoner, and various other accomplices. All these half-strangers help Philippe succeed in pulling off the ultimate, illegal stunt (I think you can figure out where things are headed). This gives The Walk a sort of caper feel. 2001 had Ocean’s Eleven. Here we have Petit’s seven.

    All in all, the three-dimensional space in “Walk” is sumptuous and avant garde. The look of it is salt and peppery, the sense of time and place is physically real, and the performances by all the actors are thoroughly impactful (especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Edited quickly yet overwhelmed by large amounts of buildup (is said French dude finally gonna be “Mr. Man On Wire” and cross over?), this thing still keeps you interested. Even the film score is Forrest Gumpian. My rating: 3 stars.

    Rating: 3 out of 4 stars

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  • “For me, to walk on the wire, this is life.”

    I hope it’s not the intention to make a film about every bizarre human achievement. Otherwise we’ll be looking at a whole series of movies. Besides the shown dazzling images, I thought it was just a soporific spectacle. Halfway the movie I dozed off. Fortunately that didn’t happen to Philippe Petit while he was swinging on that steel cord between the Twin Towers. However, there are two things about this film that stand out. First of all, the used camera technique. I myself suffer from fear of heights and “The Walk” gave me often anxiety attacks and a spinning sensation. It managed to get me as far as holding my hands in front of my eyes. You won’t see me do that even during the most terrifying horror. And then there’s Joseph “Looper” Gordon-Levitt talking with a French accent. Although he could have made a caricature out of Petit easily, he managed to play the driven, passionate Frenchman with gusto.

    Already from the opening scene you know what you can expect. Philippe speaks to the public from the top of the Statue of Liberty and introduces this true story. The way he tells the story with enthusiasm and emotion, ensures that your curiosity is aroused. Did he succeed in this dangerous undertaking? Or is he speaking to us from heaven, after he smashed to bits and ended up as a human pizza between the two majestic towers? Those who know the real story, know the outcome of course. And furthermore Phillippe also reveals the ultimate goal early on in the film. So we can’t speak of a surprise element anymore.

    The first part is about Philippe working as a street artist in Paris. It’s there that his passion for walking the wire started. With the help of the circus owner Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), whose family practiced tightrope walking for years, he learns the tricks of the trade. And when he reads an article about the construction of the Twin Towers, he only has one goal in his life and that’s to cross the yawning depth between the two towers while walking that rope. What follows is a kind of “Ocean Eleven”, to make sure this stunt will be a success. The moment Philippe decides to fulfill this dream, the preparations begin. Figuring out how to achieve it and what equipment is required. Assembling a group of accomplices and create a detailed plan so that nothing would go wrong the day Philippe tries his luck. The second part is about the implementation of this plan. Of course you can expect some setbacks and unexpected obstacles during the attempt, so that it becomes more intense and exciting.

    Gordon-Levitt played his role with bravura and with conviction, although the forced sounding accent bothered me at the beginning. All the time I was wondering why they hadn’t chosen an authentic French actor. But as the film progressed, I thought it was an admirable performance off him. Kingsley’s part was extremely funny. But for me the two helping hands from the United States, summoned by a shop owner, were really amusing. Charlotte Le Bon is a lovable and frail appearance, but served merely as an attribute (such as the flexible stick Philippe uses during his tightrope walking) in a parallel storyline. All in all an entertaining and at times terribly intense film. But it didn’t reach the same level as Philippe did during his famous act.

    PS. Finally I want to mention that I find it a huge achievement from the filmmakers they weren’t tempted to make it a kind of tribute to the Twin Towers and avoided to use any reference to what ultimately happened with these towers.

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  • One of the best measures of a good movie based on a true story is the tension that it manages to create in the audience. Whatever the main conflict in the film’s story, if audience members know the ending, keeping their attention and interest and keeping them emotionally invested in the story’s outcome is a challenge for any filmmaker. A movie with a great script in the hands of a great director with a great cinematographer and editor and a great cast can meet such a challenge, but when it happens, it’s still an impressive accomplishment. Two examples from recent cinematic history come to mind. In 2013, director Paul Greengrass turned the well-known incident of Somali pirates seizing the Maersk Alabama into the thrilling and suspenseful “Captain Phillips”. The film was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and earned acting nominations for star Tom Hanks and Somali actor Barkhad Abdi (in his film debut), both of whom were also nominated for Screen Actors Guild Awards, which both won. Earlier, in 2006, Greengrass was also the director of “United 93”, which chronicled the 9/11 terrorist attacks, focusing on the flight which passengers attempted to retake from the terrorists. As the film neared its tragic foregone conclusion, as a moviegoer who knew a lot about the events of 9/11, I still found myself hoping against hope that the story would end differently than it did in real life. Creating movies like that take a tremendous amount of skill. (Don’t even get me started on the fact that Paul Greengrass has yet to be win a Best Director Oscar.) 2015 has legendary director Robert Zemeckis trying his hand at creating tension in a story with a well-known ending in his docudrama “The Walk” (PG, 2:03).

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Philippe Petite, the French high-wire artist who decided to string his wire between the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center and walk it. But, of course, no one would attempt something like that on a whim. Philippe became entranced with wire walkers the first time he saw one in the circus back home in France. As the boy grew into a young man, he taught himself to walk on ropes between trees in his backyard, he got better and better and started walking actual wires. He becomes very comfortable on his wire, but it’s “Papa Rudy” (Ben Kingsley), the local patriarch of a family of wire walkers, who teaches Philippe what it means to walk the wire safely and as performance art.

    Philippe isn’t interested in the scripted performances of the circus, but is very interested in performing – and challenging himself to bigger and better performances. After repeatedly clashing with his father about his passion for walking the wire, Philippe leaves home and moves to Paris. There he finds larger crowds to see his performances and more places to hang his wire. He also finds a girlfriend in a fellow street performer, a guitar player and singer named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon). She encourages him in his wire walking, even when he illegally strings and walks his wire between the two towers of Notre Dame Cathedral. By this time, Philippe has started gathering a group of co-conspirators (as he calls them), like photographer Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony) and Jean-Louis’ friend, Jean-François (César Domboy), who wants to help, but is also afraid of heights. That’s okay. Philippe needs all the help he can get.

    Philippe has decided to walk a wire between the two tallest buildings in the world, a goal which he calls “the coup”. After talking through the details and working out some of the problems with Papa Rudy and the co-conspirators, it’s time for some on-site reconnaissance. Philippe, Annie and their friends travel to New York, where Philippe dresses as a construction worker to blend in with those still working on the interior of the new World Trade Center. He also meets and recruits some New Yorkers, including French expatriate Jean-Pierre (James Badge Dale) and Barry Greenhouse (Steve Valentine), a fan of Philippe, who witnessed the Notre Dame performance and happens to work in the Twin Towers. This disparate group of people (plus some late additions), each have a role to play in Philippe’s grand plan.

    “The Walk” isn’t a thrill a minute, but it is thrilling. The story is fascinating and the acting is strong, especially from Gordon-Levitt, who learned French for the role and studied wire walking from Petite himself. The script tells the story well, although the scenes in which Gordon-Levitt narrates by talking to the camera are kind of hokey, mostly because of how they’re shot. The rest of the cinematography is spectacular – especially the movie’s climactic wire-walking scene which turns out to be much more exciting than you’d expect from an incident which is so well-documented. “A-“

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