The Walk (15A.)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Clément Sibony, James Badge Dale, Cesar Domboy and Ben Kingsley. Partly subtitled.123 mins.
Theoretically Phillippe Petit has to be one of the most unlikely, and least appealing, characters ever to head up a Hollywood movie – an arrogant, egotistical French trapeze artist and street busker, a man who did mime, who ran rings around American security forces. During the last decade though his greatest feat, a surreptitious and unauthorised tightrope walk between the just completed Twin Towers of The World Trade Centre in 1974, has became a strange mix of memorial and act of defiance.
So yes, this is exactly the same story you already saw in the celebrated, Oscar winning documentary Man On Wire. The decision to make a dramatic feature seemed redundant to many, especially as its form is closer to a documentary than a drama. Petit (Levity) narrates the story from the torch of the Statue of Liberty and the script replicates the documentary more than it dramatises the story. It tells as much as it shows. But the reason for making it is actually pretty obvious – here you get to see the money shot. In Man On Wire there was a great hole where the point should be. Petit had failed to organise for the walk to be filmed, there were just a couple of photographers up there.
So Man on Wire had to concentrate on the heist aspects of the story, how Petit recruited a gang to help him secretly get up the Towers at night and throw and attach a sturdy rope between them. Zemeckis's film goes through that as build up for the CGI recreation of the act which is as breath taking and spectacular as you could wish. For most of the time it really does look like Joseph Gordon-Levitt is walking on a rope, 110 storeys in the air between two buildings that no longer exists. (This is one of the few movies that genuinely does have to be seen in 3D though with the proviso that in the places where the effects don't quite convince the 3D probably exacerbates it.) If I were a poster quote whore I'd say that it Looks So Realistic It'll Give You Vertigo. But honestly, as someone who is a little dicky with great heights, a number of moments did have me squirming in my seat. But not during the walk itself – once that is under way there is something very beautiful, and very moving about it.
I think The Walk has the potential to really connect with audiences, especially American one. The novelty is that though he is played by an American, the film doesn't Americanize the story at all. A surprising amount of dialogue is in subtitled French and though we may question Levitt's French accent it is better than having Petit become an American with a French name. The follow your dreams narrative/ the wacky group of oddball pulling off the impossible, it's a clichéd set up but, though Alan Silvestri's score is sometimes a bit soppy, the film plays the material straight. Of course this story has meaning way beyond man does incredible stunt but they don't play up this angle, they just let it hang there and then refer to it in the last scene and the very last line.