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The Walk | Review

Large Spectacle: Hollywood’s Answer to Petit’s Infamous Le Coup

Robert Zemeckis The Walk Poster

A singular man with an impossible goal dealing with the ultimate stakes of life or death. The story of the Philippe Petit and his infamous walk between the two towers is an absolute marvel–an impossibility that never should have happened. Despite the existence of the acclaimed documentary Man on Wire (an inevitable comparison), Robert Zemeckis throws his hat into the ring, in the attempt to rejuvenate the story into a spectacle abundant with the special effects and innocuous appeal that has become part of his signature. Sparing nothing and relying on the filmmaker’s drawer of tricks, The Walk, is satisfied with what it is: a pageant of gimmicks, charm, and agreeability.

Breaking the fourth wall to deliver the story is narrator Philippe Petit (played by affable Joseph Gordon-Levitt with his interpretation of a French accent that will either offend or grow on you). With crinkling eyes and a warm smile, he woos the audience as he reminisces about his days in France (set in black and white with splashes of color for “artistry”) and how he devised and ultimately pulled the renowned “le coup”. From learning how to walk–on a tightrope that is–to pursuing his dream to New York, the narrative is straightforward and amicable, downright sunny even with its minor setbacks. And a tale’s not a tale without a colorful cast of accomplices to round out the leading man, which includes mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), romantic interest and cheerleader from the sidelines, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), and accomplice, Albert, (Ben Schwartz) who is of course, terrified of heights.

The main attraction is the act itself, the perilous walk. The film loiters a bit too long as it works to build suspense and romanticism, acting more like unnecessary appetizers to the entree. The night before the “le coup” and the walk itself are where the film captures most of its energy and tension. However, those familiar with the story know that Petit’s endeavor was successful so the outcome is not what’s important. Fascinating is the crux of the story–the magnetism and fervor that Petit had in order to reach for the impossible and ensnare those who supported and responded. This transcendence of logic, caution, and self-preservation to tackle something so dangerous and unfathomable is what intrigues people who continue to revisit his story. The Walk’s greatest weakness is the inability to fully deliver the aha moment when the audience truly understands Petit and what the walk meant not only to him but the world.

Consistently, Zemeckis’ work celebrates the idea of escapism. With Gordon-Levitt as the driving vehicle, a story that glints with inspiration and dips into the saccharine, and special effects akin to a Disneyland thrill ride, The Walk delivers without surprises. Cinematography is playful in its freedom in capturing Petit’s affinity for challenging gravity. Its many elements of charm and its sweet ode to New York will satisfy despite its indifference to excavate. Much like Petit’s walk, the film sprightly follows a straight linear path that is sure to dazzle the unsuspecting.

Reviewed at the 2015 New York Film Festival – September 27th – Opening Night Film – 124 Mins.


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