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Movie Review: 'The Walk'

The real life trip across The Twin Towers is only exciting at the end.

Review by Matt Cummings

The events of 9/11 are still fresh in my mind, as if my vacation-turned-nightmare to New York that week happened only recently. Perhaps it's my connection as my birthplace that keeps me anchored there, but to know it captured the imagination of so many is the only consolation I can take. Perhaps the most stunning of those was Phillipe's Petit's high-wire antics across the buildings in 1974, which is now the subject of a major motion picture. And while The Walk looks good on IMAX, its small and frustrating story derails the experience.

When the French high-wire performer Phillipe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns that the massive World Trade Center Towers are about to become the world's tallest structure, he heads to New York City to cross them before they are completed. He takes the girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) with him, seeking insight from an aging Czech wire-tripper (Ben Kingsley) who's not sure why Petit is risking such a feat. Along the way, Petit recruits several Americans - including James Badge Dale - to break into the construction zone, string a wire across the roofs late at night, and walk across before the police arrive. The results will see Petit and his team pushed to the limit, with the shadow of The Towers serving as poignant backdrop.

This film is really three in one: a biopic, a heist flick, and a story of rebellion. Zemeckis and Christopher Browne fail to fashion these into a cohesive tale, boring for us 60 minutes at the beginning, doing a fair job for 15, and then hitting us with too much high-wire in the last 45. A tighter edit would have helped this immeasurably, as it bumbles its way to an anti-climatic ending. Once it's all over, things really fall apart: the creative team fail to explain what motivates Phillipe to stay in New York, why Annie decides to suddenly leave him, and why he doesn't take his act on the road.

And even with the high-wire experience, I cannot recommend The Walk. This is a small film about persistence and struggle with some good (but not great) CG. There's an almost dreaminess to these Towers, leaving any reality on the first floor. Wind and chatter at that height should have been louder, and there's never a sense of any danger. Levitt's energetic performance doesn't quite get the accent right, and his heavy-handed monologue getting in the way of any nuance which Zemeckis never really utilizes. Meanwhile, Phillipe's team watches below with zero sense of urgency. This is really just a bunch of people looking off camera in reaction to Levitt's walking, but without any emotion or passion in what they're supposed to be witnessing. They feel more like caricatures, with Le Bon the dutiful girlfriend, Dale as the rebellious soul, and the rest of the cast as remarkable as tan paint. We never really learn about any of their intentions, their hopes, or even why they've assembled to help Phillipe.

What does appear in abundance here is poignancy. Every time Zemeckis show us those glorious Towers I was reminded of the tragedy which brought them down. I felt more connected to them than to Philippe himself, who seemed like someone who frankly did something really stupid, just because he could. In the end, it didn't benefit a cause, help end strife, or even begin a great career in high-wire work. The 2008 documentary won for Best Picture, so at best this is a half-hearted bow to James Marsh's fabulous Man on Wire. And this isn't really even about Petit himself, but more about those towers, which present the most powerful scene in the film. I kept thinking their story and Petit's 'lifetime observation pass' would have made for a far better story than the one we ultimately got.

Composer Alan Silvestri - whom I thought retired but keeps crafting new material - delivers a solid soundtrack, while cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Prometheus) shoots a pretty picture of grimy 1970's New York. But there's just something fake about the whole thing, like a casual caricature of Petit's early street performance, meant to go down like diet soda, except the first several gulps are particularly hard to take.

I know that someone must have thought a high-wire display like The Walk would work on IMAX, but that person isn't me. While the CG certainly impressed, it's really a small movie for a much smaller screen. But even under those adjusted circumstances, I still can't recommend it, because its intended story isn't the most powerful part of the film. In doing so, it certainly robs the story of any tension, because you know how this whole thing is going to work out. And that's not a tale I want to revisit.

The Walk is rated PG and has a runtime of 123 minutes. Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Anonymous said…
Terrible film, you say? Well, this is a terrible review. In all honesty, I stopped reading at "60 minutes of boredom". The film was more of an ode to the 'Coup' itself and Petit's life up to that point. To even bring up the events of 9/11 simply because that's were it took place(the towers), is childish and asinine. You are NOT a real critic and this is a very shoddy way to look at things. The film was very adequate and worth watching IMO. Please... stick to your crappy advance screening contests and leave the legit reviewing and podcasts to others.
Matt Cummings said…
Thanks for making yourself look like an idiot. Perhaps you could learn how to spell. I couldn't care less what you thought about the film. And the next time you want to post a comment, please have the balls (or tits) to post your name. Perhaps you're afraid we'll know who you are and take you out of our advance screenings? Either way, you're a total coward.

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