Release: 1st February 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
As a boy, Philippe Petit dreams of performing daring feats for dazzled crowds. As an adult (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his life’s ambition comes true when he becomes a high-wire artist who stares death in the face with every step. Under the guidance of mentor Papa Rudy, the French daredevil devises a plan to walk on a tightrope attached to the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. With help from his team and against all odds, Petit attempts the seemingly impossible stunt on Aug. 7, 1974.
Robert Zemeckis’ 17th major release opens in such an egregious way, you almost want to push that stupid little French man who looks like Joseph Gordon-Levitt from where he stands, and watch him plummet satisfactorily to his death. Evil, and I mean EVIL, dirty green screens; talking to the camera; sticky dialogue that gums up the ears; [shudder]. In all honesty, the first ten minutes of The Walk would be enough to turn off a lot of its audience. But suffer through it, and what you are rewarded with is a light-hearted caper with plenty of laughs and a super secret bleeding heart.
The film’s 3rd act is its ace in the hole, and in spite of all the ugly special effects which have gone before, the eventual high-wire commute between the North and South towers of The World Trade Centre is brilliant. The scene does clunk here and there, with the odd bit of mismatched lighting, but in general it’s the kind of immersive visual effect which churns stomachs, loosens bowels and is guaranteed to induce a serious amount of vertigo. Remember when we thought Christopher Reeve could really fly? Well know you’ll believe that Jo-Lev might well be a certain kind of Superman, too. All helped along wonderfully by Alan Silvestri’s handsome little score.
The Walk makes no bones about being sans pith; it isn’t out to win Oscars. This is Ocean’s 11 in plimsolls. You have ‘the mark’, ‘the chick’, ‘the clown’, ‘the mouth’, ‘the inside man’, ‘the brain’, etc; it’s all very predictable in this regard, but remember that it DID happen. The cast each play to their strengths, and Jo-Lev’s accent wavers between solid Gérard Depardieu and ‘hon-he-hon’ Inspector Clouseau. This can be a distraction, but fall death to it and Levitt’s portrayal of Philippe Petit is a whirlwind of arrogance, charm and wild enthusiasm. There is a definite sense that Levitt is more interested in emulation than caricature. He really does inhabit the role.
Like a well made kid’s film, The Walk suffers most when it is being silly and extravagant. But when push comes to shove (every wirewalker’s worst thought), this is a film the revels in the majesty of what Petit achieved. It’s a tip of the hat to those who dare, or as Rob Siltanen / Apple Computers once said, “Here’s to the crazy ones.”
But beyond all of this, beyond all its flair and dreamy visions of French men dressed like Johnny Cash’s gay uncle; it’s a love letter to the towers themselves. The Walk is a pertinent reminder that at a time before tragedy, those buildings were a symbol of ambition and success, a draw to the impossible. The Walk reminds us that there was once a time when The World Trade Centre was an embodiment not just of the American dream, but the very concept of dreaming itself.
Film Grade: B
I could take or leave the Deleted Scenes, they offer nothing new to the story and actually show some restraint on Zemeckis’ behalf; a rare treat.
The Amazing Walk details just how this film was brought to life. It looks at the – cringe – 3D conversion process they – chose? – to use. In case you hadn’t already guessed, a lot of the film was produced via digital methods. But it is nice to see just how in control of this process everyone was.
You can skip Pillars Of Support if themed special features and hammy Final Cut effects aren’t your thing. It’s all glorified back slapping anyway. However, we do learn that the cast would watch Zemeckis films as a way of bonding. No mention is made of whether they skipped Contact or Beowulf. Then there are some Previews of other Sony titles.
The real reason to stick around for special features comes in the form of First Steps – Learning To Walk The Wire. It is rich with interactions between Levitt and Petit; showing the former’s wide-eyed admiration for the latter and the latter’s total respect for the former. It offers a great behind the scenes look at just how things materialised as art imitated life inspired by art. You’d never have believed that Petit trained Levitt in just under 8 days!
Special Features Grade: C+
Decent features, lovely little film. You could do a lot worse, but not any better, than treating yourself to The Walk as a way of getting gone those January blues.