Saturday, September 26, 2015

“The Walk”– Movie Review



This weekend, I attended the opening night of The New York Film Festival with the World Premiere screening of director Robert Zemeckis’ new drama “The Walk”, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. 


When a French performance artist decides to walk a tightrope between The Twin Towers of The World Trade Center, will he beat the odds or can he be stopped before he risks his life?



As a Parisian street performer in the early 1970’s, Philippe Petit (Gordon-Levitt), just barely eked out a living collecting coins tossed by appreciative tourists who watched him juggle, perform acrobatics and maybe even throw in a magic trick or two, just for a little variety.  But Petit considered himself an artist and his ambition demanded so much more; since going to the circus as a child, he was fascinated with being a high-wire performer.  The problem he encountered was that learning how to do this properly would be more difficult than magic, juggling or acrobatics – all skills in which he was self-taught. 

Befriending a local circus funambulist (Ben Kingsley), Petit learns both humility and the secrets necessary to do this professionally.  Once he eventually acquires the skill to his satisfaction, Petit sets his sights high – very high, in fact.  His dream is to walk a tightrope between the two tallest buildings in The United States:  the yet-to-be-completed Twin Towers of The World Trade Center in New York City.  Determined, he sets out to assemble a team of accomplices at home; when ready, they head to New York and recruit other members of the team to help him reach his goal. 

With both the people and equipment in place, Petit decides that the time to strike is August 7, 1974.  At that point, only one of the buildings has been finished and although the other tower is slowly gaining tenants, construction has not yet been completed.  Also, it is important for him to perform this act before the weather turns and begins to get too cold.  Like thieves, they have to sneak into each building and somehow manage to find a way to reach the roof; once there, the tightrope has to be set up across the 140 feet space between the roofs.  But after it’s been connected, will Petit’s training be enough to help him accomplish this impossible feat before the police beat him to the punch?  


As a lifelong New Yorker, it is hard to watch a movie such as “The Walk”, which depicts the original World Trade Center, without feeling a bit of a chill run through your soul.  When you witness a mass murder on the scale of which was seen on September 11, 2001, it is a major understatement to say that it is a life-changing experience.  Just as construction of The Twin Towers was an extraordinary human accomplishment, so was their destruction – but on the other end of the spectrum, to be sure.  In between, shortly after the Towers were first born, there was another extraordinary human accomplishment – and that one was performed by Philippe Petit when he did the impossible by walking a tightrope between the Tower 1 and Tower 2 shortly after sunrise one summer morning.

Director Robert Zemeckis has performed his own amazing feat with “The Walk”, but that one is of a more technical nature.  While the movie is lacking on some levels, the special effects artistry is nothing short of breathtaking.  The screening of “The Walk” that opened this year’s New York Film Festival was a 3-D version, which only added to the thrill of the technical artistry.  Although the best part of it is arguably the tightrope walk itself which occurs at the end, there are a few other scenes earlier on which definitely make it worth the effort to see “The Walk” in 3-D, if at all possible. 

Regarding the misgivings of “The Walk”, there are a few.  First and foremost is the obnoxious performance by Gordon-Levitt, which is ostentatious, even if you are somehow able to get past his phony French accent without cringing.  Then, there is also the matter of the screenplay.  “The Walk” is based on a true story; as a high school student during that period, I have vivid memories of hearing the feat described on a local radio station while it was happening.  As such, the challenge in telling it is maintaining a certain level of suspense; this was a story that was not merely local, it went international, so we all know how it ends, even if we weren’t already aware of the details and backstory.  With the Petit character presented as narrator from the start and no acknowledgement of The Towers’ gruesome end years later, it would seem that the true heart of this story is sorely missing. 

The Walk (2015) on IMDb

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