The Walk (2015) Review:
Film-making is all about illusion. Every year people spend their hard earned time and money to sit in a dark room where they’re told to be quiet, all so they can watch the wool being pulled over their eyes. The actors pretend to be someone they’re not, and the camera tricks you into thinking you’re in another universe. It’s a pretense through and through and despite this, we still go.
Of course we go. Because not so deep down, we’re willing to suspend our disbelief, and submit ourselves to be transported, for a just a moment, to a place of wonder. That’s why we get so riled up over movies. We know how we feel when that illusion works, and it’s a disappointing shame when we’re robbed of that opportunity.
‘The Walk’ performs one of the greatest illusions of the last decade. The movie tells the tale of Philippe Petit, a frenchman with a fascination with tightrope walking. Played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, Philippe’s fascination is not that of the typical circus artist. While most performers are generally content with a consistent audience, Phillipe has bigger aspirations. Much bigger. From his introduction to tightrope walking at 8 years old, to his development as a money making street performer, ‘The Walk’ chronicles the life of Phillipe Petit, as he prepares to, illegally, walk between the Twin Towers. The then tallest structure in the world.
Right off the bat you should understand something about Phillipe Petit. He lays all claims of sanity at the mailbox of the person across the street. Time and time again the movie reminds you that he is not a man of sound mind, and he’s fully aware of that. Of course, that only makes him all the more charming. As you watch him plan to enact this impossible feat, you bear witness to the unbridled joy of a man who has found purpose in his life. A goal that drives him to the point of bloody soles and criminal prosecution, but in the face of such adversity, Phillipe is consistently positive. The feat itself is an inspiring symbol of human perseverance, but just as inspiring is the performer himself.
It’s not just his positivity that inspires. Phillipe is inspiring because of just how human he is. He brings that sense of frenzy one gets when they’re consumed by passion, but he also brings the fear of failure that comes with it. Not just from the inherent danger of his dream, but from the idea that he would be unable to do the one thing he feels he is destined to do. Joseph Gordon Levitt brings across Phillipe’s moments of excitement, doubt, anxiety, trust, arrogance, and all the moments necessary to make Phillipe feel awe-inspiring in one moment, and then completely relatable in the next.
I was surprised at how whimsical and fantasy like the opening of the movie was, almost like a kids movie. It was strange at first, especially for a fantastic true story like this, but the movie found a way to balance that against darker moments. If anything, it feels like a more adult Spielberg movie, which is what Zemeckis has always been. Credit should be given to Alan Silvestri for the score, which helps streamline the film into balanced multipersonality.
The film itself can be seen as presenting two distinct films. The first is a coming of age story about a young man establishing his place in the world, ignoring the contrarians that hold back the would be biopic subject. The second is a heist film, as Phillipe and company establish the how and the when for the where. It works both ways, making it one of the most emotionally engaging heist films to date. Well, since ‘Tower Heist’ at least.
The company I mentioned, are the people Phillipe refers to as his “accomplices”. The most notable cast member is Sir Ben Kingsley, who plays Papa Rudy, a father figure to Phillipe, who taught Phillipe everything he knows about tightropes. The other notable performance comes from Charlotte Le Bon as Annie, Phillipe’s girlfriend. These relationships aid in grounding Phillipe’s persona but I ultimately found them to be just okay in the end. Everything is there, it just felt as though they were unnecessary in this story. The side characters fall somewhere between well developed characters, and people who were just there at Phillip’s life at that moment in time. However, the movie should be commended for casting Ben Schwartz to act opposite a man who I can only describe as French Ben Schwartz.
Aside from all that though, the real star of the film is the walk itself. I must stress, if it is that you are afraid of heights, you should opt out of this one. If you must see it, wait a few months to catch it at home, because this is not a movie that should be viewed lightly. The last act of the film centres around the infamous tightrope walk and shows just how brilliant a director Robert Zemeckis is.
From the man who put you inside a rolling plane, ‘The Walk’ makes you feel as if you are 110 stories in the air, floating alongside a man who has taken it upon himself to go for a stroll. It’s especially cruel when in the middle of a slow pan the movie jump cuts to a shot of Phillipe’s feet on the tightrope. That sort of quick paced editing is in there only to increase your already high chances of passing out. The amount of tension and anxiety I felt in those scenes was astonishing to me, as the movie truly does feel as though it is an experience that must be viewed in theatres, especially with the aid of 3D.
The visuals don’t begin and end with the walk. In the much smaller moments of the film, Zemeckis does his best to give the viewer information visually. He doesn’t over explain the passage of time, and lets the scenes speak for themselves. It creates a smooth pacing that is subsequently in a movie that is rife with narration. Most film fans hate narration, myself included, because most films use it poorly. I didn’t mind it as much in this film, since it serves the purpose of letting you know Phillipe, which the movie is hinged on. Generally though, narration belongs in the opening scenes of Lord of the Rings style fantasy epics.
‘The Walk’ is a movie that engages its audience with its fantastic story, and then keeps them engaged with its fascinating main character. Although side characters leave something to be desired, they don’t take away too much from an otherwise immersive film. The way the movie constructs its final act, from the execution of the planned heist, to the tightrope walk itself is a master class in tension and pacing, and surely something that will be studied in the years to come. It presents a sense of visual illusion akin to believing a man can fly in ‘Superman’. If you’re anything like me, you really like movies, and probably like it when they pleasantly surprise you. ‘The Walk’ will do that, if only because it gave me something I’d never had before. Absolute f***ing terror.
Rating: Big Screen Watch