VOD film review: The Walk
Simon Kinnear | On 02, Feb 2016
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley
Watch The Walk online in the UK: Amazon Prime / iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Drama or documentary? The question of what mode is best placed to retell true stories is a particularly acute one in the case of Philippe Petit’s famous 1974 wire-walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. James Marsh’s Oscar-winning doc, Man on Wire, achieved an incredible immersion in its exciting, heist-like narrative, but of course, the one thing it could never do was replicate the sensation of being on the wire.
Enter Robert Zemeckis, who had long wanted to film Petit’s story and wasn’t going to let a small matter like coming second stop him. After spending most of the 21st century making mo-capped animations, The Walk is only his second live-action film in a long time – and in honesty, it feels close to being another animation in its obvious green-screening of Gordon-Levitt, as Petit completes his work. And yet via the graphical boldness of the film, its use of horizontal and vertical plains (accentuated by smart use of 3D), it becomes the experiential coup it needed to be.
As drama, though, it is significantly flawed. Zemeckis can find no better way to tell the story than Marsh already did; namely, to get Petit to do the talking. The nonstop narration is often direct-to-camera, as Gordon-Levitt’s beaming features describe the story from atop the Statue of Liberty – a strange gimmick that doesn’t add anything thematically or aesthetically and which, worse, is completely redundant, given how often we’re told things that are adequately described by the on-screen action.
The plot beats are faithfully adhered to, but somehow, in the established pattern of a three-act movie, stuff that actually happened takes on the unlikelihood of contrivance, as perfect accomplices appear by chance, guards appear at inopportune moments and the rigging of cables is beset by endless setbacks. Helped (or hindered) by a jaunty Alan Silvestri score, the film feels curiously airless, never particularly bothered about establishing its historical context – or, indeed, Petit’s motives, beyond his puppyish enthusiasm to make impossible things happen. For Zemeckis, that’s probably good enough, given his career-long interest in seeking narrative or technical conundrums to solve.
But it’s all about the walk and, despite knowing the outcome, there is palpable stress involved in seeing somebody act with such foolhardy bravado. In an age where the big-screen experience is often used for live staging of ballets and plays, Petit’s walk fitted right in at cinemas as a piece of blockbuster circus. On the small screen, the film’s myriad problems loom larger.
The Walk is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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Photo: © 2016 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.