The Walk

Phillipe-ing Heck!

“Unlike anything you have seen before”. That’s what we were promised by the trailer.

The curtains roll and Phillipe Petit (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is monologuing at the camera, which I’ve definitely seen before. The camera pulls back to see him stood on the Statue of Liberty, which I’ve seen before. The whole scene isn’t quite coloured right, the wind looks like it’s coming from a wind machine and the CGI sticks out a bit. In short it’s clearly green-screened and I’ve seen that before too.

The film continues to give the whole back story of Phillipe which involves him going to the circus and being amazed at the high wire act. His eyes light up and that’s it; his destiny is laid out in front of him. He knows he needs to do something big with his art: tight rope walk between the World Trade Centre towers.

I know how he feels. I used to be into breakdancing. Used to eat it, sleep it, breathe it. Everything I did in life was far less important than when the next training session was. I wasn’t interested in performing, although I did now and again, but ultimately I wasn’t dancing for other people I was doing it for me, for the art of it.

Phillipe is also concerned with the “art” of his skill. The difference between Phillipe and me is firstly; he was actually good at his art and secondly; he is aggressive in achieving his dreams making him the arrogant character that I’m not. Hey, not everyone can be as awesome as me. Joking aside though Phillipe holds little regard for the charity of friendship so unless you are a real arse-hat you’ll dislike him more and more as the film goes on.

The Walk tries to evoke nostalgia for the 60’s and 70’s but it doesn’t quite stick it’s landing. Some of the costumes feel inconsistent, the music doesn’t quite seem right for the vibe of 60’s/70’s and the film grain doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to mimic VHS or 4K filming. The whole feel of the film languishes somewhere between Ocean’s 11 and The Social Network.

There are some things that the film does do well though. Firstly Joseph Gordon Levitt is very good as Phillipe and the moments that he speak French are surprisingly convincing. As it turns out Levitt can speak French in real life but his accent in this is sometimes a bit wobbly. Given that accents are incredibly difficult and he’s not a native speaker that’s to be expected; I mean the last time I tried to do a French accent I swear the sofa became sentient just so it could laugh at my pitiful attempt.

On top of Levitt’s performance a lot of the supporting cast are invaluable in building Phillipe’s driven, yet destructive, personality. It’s a trait that wouldn’t have been as powerful if the performances and chemistry missed the mark from the likes of Jean-Louis (Clémont Sibony), Jeff (César Domboy) and PJ (James Badge Dale) as members of “The Coup” to walk the twin towers and in the case of Annie (Charlotte Le Bon); his love interest.

Then there is Sir Ben Kingsley who plays Papa Rudy. He plays a critical role in Phillipe’s development as an artist and although he only has a short amount of screen time Kingsley is strong as ever. Gotta love that guy!

About an hour or so into the film and it’s decent enough, ‘good’ even, but not “unlike anything you have seen before“. Even if you take it in the abstract sense where “unlike anything you have seen before” could simply be a connotation for “incredible” or “unbelievable” it still isn’t that.

Then the walk happens. Suddenly everything makes sense. All the mediocrity and little niggles up until now are forgiven. I’ve heard rumour that people were getting vertigo while watching this scene and it’s fully justified. I’m not the best with heights so watching this in 3D made my butt cheeks clench firmly as Phillipe traversed the twin towers. Even his unfavourable character traits seem to break down with a sense of admiration taking it’s place.

The film ends with a little tribute to the twin towers but thankfully it isn’t heavy handed. The film doesn’t feel the need to tell you what happened to them, why they are no longer there or how many people lost their lives that fateful day, deciding instead to treat you like an intelligent adult. It serves up a dose of nostalgia that’s genuinely quite touching and amazingly simple. They are gone, we all know that, but they are still missed.

It’s incredible to think that this is all based on a true story even if it does feel very dramatised in places. It’s just as incredible to think about stepping out onto a high wire over 100 stories high let alone seeing it on screen and in 3D. I willingly forgave all the film’s faults for that final walk where even the Levitt’s accent seems totally fine by the end. I guess I should have expected a really enjoyable film; after all Robert Zemeckis has a long history of very good films, this one however is unlike anything I have seen before.

Go See

  • The wire walk
  • World trade send off
  • Levitt and Kingsley

Avoid

  • Starts badly
  • Doesn’t quite ‘feel’ right
  • Probably not as good in 2D

Overall

4-5-stars

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