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The Walk




The Walk (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

10/15/15
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



The Walk (PG-13)

French wire walker Philippe Petit becomes obsessed with walking on a wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in The Walk, a movie based on the true story of the 1974 stunt.
Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) always loved the tightrope walk. As a child, he became enamored while watching a performance by a circus that came to his town. When he’s older, he trains on and off with the head of the tightrope-walking troupe, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley, doing an accent that my brain could never quite understand). Making a living as a street busker in Paris, Petit starts dreaming of walking between the two towers when he sees a newspaper story about them being built. He performs an attention-getting walk between the two towers of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral and then sets out planning his walk in New York City. He gathers a small crew of friends/admirers who help him, including musician Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and photographer Jean Louis (Clemont Sibony). 
The challenges — aside from the obvious “not dying” — include finding a way to brace the wire so it can take Petit’s weight and the weather so high up in the sky and finding a way to get all the necessary equipment up 100 stories to the top of both towers, one of which isn’t finished yet. (Its completion is the motivating factor of the stunt — Petit believes that the walk needs to happen before the tower is completed). And, because this is an unauthorized stunt, Petit and his crew need to get everything in place and Petit out on the wire before anybody realizes what they’re doing or else the police will shut it down and make future attempts impossible. 
I had an odd reaction to the very end of The Walk, one that retroactively colors my feelings about the movie that came before it. My first thought, as I was watching the movie’s closing scenes, was “ew” and my second thought was “oh, man, I’m not going to cry over this nonsense, am I?” I didn’t, but the movie seemed to be working hard to get me there in a way that reminded me of the sentimentality of this movie’s director Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump. It’s a difficult needle to thread, finding a way to end the movie in a way that is about Petit and his walk and the towers without being about that other part of the towers’ history. The movie does it less than expertly, laying on the final image of the golden towers a little too thick. The drama does not need Zemeckis’ underlining to make it poignant.
Setting aside the ending, The Walk is a solid film, not perhaps as good at Man on Wire, the 2008 documentary about Petit’s stunt that I remember as even more nail-biting in some ways, but solid nonetheless. This isn’t Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s best role and yet it’s still vastly better than any given performance by many a similar-aged actor. He is one of those rare actors whom you can never quite forget is actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt but who can still meld enough with each role that you don’t care and can buy the performance. He allows us to believe in Petit’s obsession with grand wire-walks and to believe that his passion for what he sees as his art is great enough that he can convince others to help him. And that’s no easy feat — would you be eager to help somebody do their art if you knew one of the outcomes (one of the likely outcomes) was that you would be an accomplice to his death? His Petit narrates the movie as well, appearing to stand on the torch of the Statue of Liberty with the Towers in the background. For a variety of reasons, I could have had less of this, but it doesn’t get in the way as much as it could have done.
What The Walk does, especially in 3-D, which I how I saw the movie, is give you a sense of Petit’s stomach-churning position so high in the air, supported by what appears to be nothing. With one exception (something always has to come right at you at least once in a movie like this, it seems, or the effects guys don’t feel they got their money’s worth), the 3-D of this movie is fairly subtly used. It makes you feel the distance from the ground (really feel it — I don’t have a problem with heights but I’m pretty sure I grabbed the arm of my seat) and the precariousness of one shaky wire suspended so far up.
The Walk is a fun little movie about a magical moment that captures the whimsy of that moment as much as the step-by-step of how it was created. And if it gets you to watch the even more entertaining documentary about the event, so much the better. B-
Rated PG for thematic elements involving perilous situations, and for some nudity, language, brief drug references and smoking. Directed by Robert Zemeckis with a screenplay by Zemeckis & Christopher Browne (based on the book To Reach the Clouds by Philippe Petit), The Walk is two hours and three minutes long and distributed by Tristar.
 





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