The Walk (2015)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon
I like to believe that at some part of every persons’ life, they have their moment. That day, hour, minute, or split second that changes their life forever. The sad thing about these moments? They don’t linger. It’s often a one and done and if you didn’t have your wits about you when it happens then you could have possibly just missed the greatest moment of your life. Capturing the wonder of such an event on screen is no easy task, and yet I am pleased to say that director Robert Zemeckis has succeeded in doing so with flying covers. The Walk is a visceral experience that, despite some clunky storytelling and acting, legitimately makes you feel 110 stories high.
Philippe Petit in 1974 was an amateur street artist with almost no official training and a dream to pull off the biggest artistic coup in history. A French scallywag with a knack for getting in trouble, he is physicalized perfectly by Joseph Gordon Levitt. His slender frame and fluid movement easily sells that he is supposed to be a daredevil performer. However, when it comes time to get to know who Petit is as a person, the film stumbles. Levitt, with all of his acting skill cannot pull off being a Frenchman. His creepy blue contacts, disheveled hair, and cheesy voice make him appear like a kid playing dress up and trying on his best Napoleon impression. But if you can get past your stifled laughs at his ridiculous voice, he comes off as a perfect aspiring showman. Energetic, funny, enthusiastic; Petit is an instantly likeable protagonist and keeps the film moving through some of its more sluggish moments.
Above anything, The Walk is a heist film. Just like your favorites Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job, the film follows the very familiar format of designing a plan, finding a team, and finally executing said plan. Enter Philippe’s ragtag crew, including the likes of his girlfriend Annie Alix (Charlotte Le Bon), a math teacher who unfortunately is afraid of heights (Cesar Domboy), and his mentor Papa Rudy played by Academy Award winner Sir Ben Kingsly. Kingsly stands out at the emotional center of the film, questioning Philippe when he is too forward, encouraging him when he is too frightened. He is as close to a father figure as Petit gets, which makes it a shame that his character is mostly limited to the first half of the film. The scenes between himself and Levitt are some of the most moving the film has to offer and it would have benefited from more. Charlotte Le Bon’s Alix fares a little worse. Multiple times we are told she is Philippe’s rock; that there is no way he can do this without her. And yet more often than not she questions him and makes him feel unsure of himself for the little time she is on screen. Their budding love sub plot is cute to watch but after the initial attraction is over so too is the interest in her character.
Then there is the narration. God, the narration. A film can have a little voice over, even benefit from it. Just look at Fight Club and Goodfellas. But these films’ commentary doesn’t tell what is happening on screen, it warps it. The character’s perspective puts a spin on things or reveals a point of view that we as the viewer had not seen before. With The Walk, the narration simply serves to tell while we are already being shown the happenings on. See Philippe getting nervous? Cue an instant narration of him talking about how nervous he is. See something exciting going on that you want to immerse yourself in? Don’t worry, Petit is going to give you the play by play. This is all made worse by Levitt’s aforementioned ridiculous attempt at a legitimate French accent. Serious dramatic moments are lessened by relentless intrusions of Petit’s insistence that he tell us what is going on. It is incredibly annoying and the film ultimately suffers for it.
Now I’ve given you a lot of negatives, but I only do that to stress that despite all of these trespasses, The Walk is actually a stunning film, particularly when we finally get to the walk itself. Anyone even remotely familiar with the true story knows how it plays out, but the high wire attempt on the towers is easily one of the most stressful and magical scenes I have seen to date. The entire event happens in Petit’s heightened sense of reality; though his senses as an artist and performer, and Zemeckis captures this event beautifully. There is no end to the absolute awe that comes from the journey across the wire. And Petit does not forget to graciously thank his setting, as he should. The Twin Towers are more respected than Petit himself and again, thanks to beautiful direction, feel honored and reawaken that feeling of emotion felt from when the towers first fell. It is a beautiful homage that should not be missed. An 8.7 out of 10.