The Walk - This Movie Rocks The Tightrope
Dir: Robert Zemeckis
Strring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale
One of us here at lastword is so old and well travelled that he actually went up the World Trade Centre, back in the days when such a thing was still possible. He stood on the observation deck and did that Ferris Bueller thing where you lean into the glass and stare down at the world below. There was only one word for it – WOW!
There are many words for Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, and WOW is definitely one of them. Zemeckis himself showed up at the end of our screening of his film about Philippe Petit’s staggering tightrope-based achievement, but to be fair, he didn’t need to, the man had us at “Hello.” Zemeckis has long been a filmmaker who likes to expand the technology behind the image, from his pioneering work blending animation with live action on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, to the Zelig-esque mash up of Forrest Gump and history, to all that mo-cap meets animation stuff with The Polar Express and more, plus just about the best plane crash ever – TWICE! – in both Castaway and Flight. And let’s not forget, he delivered one of cinema’s top three trilogies of all time in Back To The Future (we’re not going to mention the other two, but trust us – it doesn’t include The Godfather or Star Wars – both trilogies.)
So to say that in the last twenty minutes of his latest film, the man outdoes himself, is to say a hell of a lot. But that’s just what he does.
The Walk is a film completely about getting to the end. You’ve seen the posters, you’ve seen the trailers – what everyone is here for is the money shot. And Zemeckis is a smart enough filmmaker to know that. So what you get here is 90 minutes of cinematic tease, but good tease. To move things along, Gordon-Levitt’s Petit is introduced atop the Statue of Liberty with the Twin Towers behind him talking directly to his audience. The inference here is that this is a showman, one who wants to entertain you, and what you are about to see is a show, or, as he call it, a “coup.” It’s not an optical illusion – this of course happened in 1974 – but in its representation here, it is. It’s an amazing technical feat of filmmaking trickery. Bear in mind, the place where this takes place doesn’t even exist anymore. So nothing we see is real. But boy, does it feel real. Zemeckis once again doesn’t so much expand the envelope as tear if to pieces. The rest of the movie is fine, Gordon-Levitt is very good and Kingsley is clearly enjoying himself – both of them employing solid cod French accents. The build up is gripping and it rattles along. But it’s the walk itself that will dazzle and impress. Once you’re out there with Petit, you do feel like you’re out there with Petit! And that’s a remarkable example of everything filmmaking can and should be.
Plus, the movie itself does something else that’s remarkable – it reclaims the Twin Towers from the events of 9/11. Yes, they implicitly haunt this and hang over every CGI’d image of the Towers, but here the building, and the achievement it recognised, is remembered. With all due respect.
Mr Zemeckis, take a bow.
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