The Walk (2015)

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Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Contains spoilers.

Artists love to talk about their art. In that regard The Walk becomes the most self involved movie I've ever seen, mirroring the star character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Philippe Petit.

Based on the biographical book by Philippe Petit, The Walk tells the story of Philippe's beginnings as a tightrope walker and street performer and then the culmination of his passion for it: a tightrope walk between the roofs of New York's Twin Towers. Beginning his story in France, Philippe tells us about the first time he saw a tightrope walker and how he began to teach himself how to walk them as well. He walks us through his adolescence as he also teaches himself how to juggle and ride a unicycle and perform for an audience and how he was always looking for a place to put his wire. Then he saw a photo of the World Trade Centers in a magazine and had the idea to suspend his rope between them. The rest of the movie is about perfecting his craft and the work going his titular walk.

Joseph "JGL" Gordon-Levitt's performance as Philippe isn't terrible, but it's not great either. His French accent mulls around in his mouth and comes out unnaturally, with a few American-accented words escaping. And that haircut... To make matters worse, Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy, Philippe's mentor, is supposed to be Czech and living in France while also speaking English. His performance is mediocre at best and certainly a far cry from Mahatma Gandhi, with nondescript accents and emotion and coming off more like a caricature of Ben Kingsley than a character in a movie. The rest of the cast is fairly good.

What's really funny is that the cinematography is, while good, not entirely up to par with Dariusz Wolski's other work, which includes the unsurprising hit from Ridley Scott, The Martian. Wolski has developed an affinity for combining physical sets and shots with computer generated imaging, as seen in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series and Prometheus. But in this case, that CG is simply overwhelming, unbalancing the physical sets. While the visuals are great, the sense that JGL is actually doing any of these stunts is laughable.

 

The story itself is interesting, but Zemeckis' portrayal is definitive proof that not every story should be turned into a movie. Seinfeld famously put across the message that 'nothing' can make a good story but, while Philippe Petit's life is certainly interesting and Man on Wire is a great documentary, this movie is... almost boring. The Walk is a literal narrative, with closeup and medium shots of Philippe on the Statue of Liberty's torch as he narrates the movie, which in and of itself is an interesting gimmick but pulls us away from the story every 5 to 10 minutes and wears out its welcome halfway in.

It turns out to feel very much like a documentary as it recounts many facts of Philippe Petit's life. He's certainly led an interesting life but the movie quickly gets so caught up in itself that the message is skewed and stifled in it's own, artistic crap. Annie describes Philippe as selfish and ungrateful and that's exactly what The Walk is as well. It's self involved and throughout the movie lauds itself as artistic, inspirational, and tries at many times to get across the message that you should follow your dreams. But that message only hits the mark in the beauty of some of the shots.

Robert Zemeckis has thrown away all subtlety to give us a very literal and upfront movie; JGL has almost no work to do to get across Philippe's emotions, partly because he literally narrates a lot of the story. And there's nothing wrong with narration but the way it's done here is simple self congratulation and less like storytelling. All of the cinematic effort is devolved into computer graphics, explanatory soundtracking, JGL's narration, and making JGL look younger in many scenes with fake acne.

There are many scenes that are actually beautiful and ethereal, and the scenes on the World Trade Center are unbelievable. Seeing Philippe's life is incredible. His adolescence and his passion are utterly intriguing. But this dramatization is self-stroking and could've been much better with more run-of-the-mill storytelling. There's certainly humor and beauty and a message to be found, and it could've come across in spades from the life of Philippe Petit. Instead it gets lost in it's own preaching.

 
 

TL;DR: I want this movie to be interesting, I really do, because the life of Philippe Petit is interesting, and his tightrope walking is astounding. But the direction of The Walk is not up the standards of Robert Zemeckis' career. While beautiful and humorous and interesting... I hope this style of storytelling doesn't catch on.

  • Acting – 12 / 20
  • Story – 9 / 20
  • Cinematography – 9 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 5 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 5 / 10
  • Biographical Drama – 5 / 10
  • Other – 0 / 10
 

Grade F = 45 / 100