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New Release Review - THE WALK

The true story of Philippe Petit's incredible wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale




"If you're looking for an involving narrative, you're better off sticking with Man on Wire, but as a cinematic experience, The Walk is a visual treat. Shame then that it's such an aural travesty."





There's an old saying: 'Tragedy plus time equals comedy'. As The Walk proves, it applies equally to all genres. Enough time has passed that we can now view a movie involving the World Trade Center in action adventure terms. It's impossible to imagine Robert Zemeckis getting this movie made a decade ago, but it's a story worth putting out into the mainstream; one that reminds us that while mankind is capable of acts of destruction, we also produce individuals capable of creating moments of magic and inspiration.
One such moment came shortly after 7am on the morning of August 7th, 1974, when a young Frenchman, Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon Levitt), stepped out onto a thin cable and made the perilous walk from one of the then newly constructed WTC's twin towers to the other. If you've seen James Marsh's excellent 2008 documentary Man on Wire, you'll be familiar with the story, and if you haven't, I encourage you to check it out before viewing The Walk, as there are moments in Zemeckis' film that seem too outrageous to swallow, but nothing Petit does here is fiction; he really was that crazy!
The first two acts of The Walk are quite awful, thanks mainly to the ridiculous narrative device of having Petit narrate the film in a patronising voiceover that does nothing to advance the story beyond describing the action occurring on screen. We see far too many movies rely on voiceover in today's mainstream American cinema, but usually it's because the filmmakers involved lack the ability or the confidence to tell a story visually. That's not the case with Zemeckis though; his directing here is as good as any work he's done throughout his career, and if you watched The Walk on mute, you wouldn't miss a beat, such is his skill in putting images together to form a cogent narrative. That just makes the voiceover all the more infuriating, a needless, irritating distraction. It doesn't help that Levitt's French accent is unbearable. The indecisiveness over how to approach the use of language is also highly distracting here. Rather than simply having the French characters speak English from the off, Zemeckis has to find an excuse for every character to transition from subtitled French to English. By the fifth time this happens you're tearing your hair out.
Petit's walk is only half the story; it took a lot of planning and ingenuity for Petit and his gang of rogues to pull off this feat. Man on Wire did a great job with this aspect, turning a documentary into a thrilling heist movie, but Zemeckis fails to come anywhere close, spending more time on the recruiting of the various characters (most of whom are annoying stereotypes) than on the logistical work involved.
Thankfully, as soon as Petit takes his first step out onto that precarious cable, all the nonsense we've had to endure for the last 75 minutes is instantly forgotten, and Zemeckis puts us through the ringer with a vertiginous rollercoaster ride that really has to be seen on the largest screen possible (3D optional). As Petit strolls nonchalantly 110 stories above Manhattan, Zemeckis gives us something no superhero movie has managed to - a true feeling of being greater than the common man.
If you're looking for an involving narrative, you're better off sticking with Man on Wire, but as a cinematic experience, The Walk is a visual treat. Shame then that it's such an aural travesty.



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