Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Wire: Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk” is an Astonishing Cinematic Achievement

Robert Zemeckis is the type of director who has made all types of films. He’s not comfortable in just one genre. He likes to push the envelope with what can be done visually on camera. His love of special effects is comparable to other directors like James Cameron or Steven Spielberg. But Zemeckis has worked in so many difference genres it’s almost surprising he has never made a film “based on a true story.” That is until now. Initially it seemed weird to conceive how a Robert Zemeckis biographical film would be like. He came close to the genre with his Oscar-winning hit “Forrest Gump.” With “The Walk” he presents the story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit who famously walked (illegally) along a wire hung between the Twin Towers in the 1970s. It’s interesting to see Zemeckis work within the constraints of a real-life story, especially one that has already been told in the Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire.” What this big budget Hollywood razzle dazzle version has that the documentary didn’t have is the amazing special effects that literally put the viewer on the wire with Petit. To some it will be nauseating and unsettling. And rightfully so: it’s impeccably staged and features top-notch visual effects. The story's not half bad too.

“Man on Wire” was a documentary that played like a thriller. “The Walk” does the same. It has elements of a heist film, not unlike an “Ocean’s Eleven” and it really works for this story. The viewer amazingly sympathizes and identifies this strange and fascinating character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who at first sounds weird speaking with a French accent and looks odd in a bad hairdo, but he really sells it. He captures the weirdness and eccentricities of this man. Even though his idea to walk between the Twin Towers is completely illegal (and he refers to as “the coup”) you want to cheer him on. After all, he has no intention of hurting anyone, except for the possibility of himself. He has a vast array of “accomplices” including love interest Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), friend Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), and random others; and then there’s his mentor in France played by Ben Kingsley.

One thing that stands out in “The Walk” besides it’s obviously big scale thrills, lies in Zemeckis and Christopher Browne’s script. They make Petit such a fascinating character (who narrates it from the Statue of Liberty of all places) and you really get a sense of who he is and why he has such a close relationship with his wire. It’s like a love story between a man and piece of steel. He has this obsessive spirit where he constantly wants to hang it up and walk across various voids, whether it’s the World Trade Center or Notre Dame. You get a sense of why Petit becomes almost obsessed with this absolutely crazy plan. Yes it’s crazy. and the fact that it really happened is almost a requirement in this story; if it were made up would the audience even believe it in a second? Probably not.

The film unravels in the perfect way until it leads to its triumphant final act where we’re rewarded with a firsthand view atop the towers as we’re placed onto the wire with Petit. The 3D imagery is vertigo-inducing and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the gigantic IMAX screen. Not only has Zemeckis created a delightful true life thriller, but a loving tribute to the Twin Towers themselves. There’s something about telling this story in a post-9/11 world that just makes sense. The World Trade Center as portrayed here with terrific special effects is as much a character in the film as the main character himself. Petit is such a bizarre and intriguing personality it makes sense that when he first arrives in New York he first touches his chin to one tower and looks up. You get the sense of connection his has with the structures and knowing what eventually happens to them gives the film an emotional weight that makes the whole thing a rewarding and altogether moving experience. There's just something cinematic about Petit's story and it works amazingly well-onscreen.  GRADE: A-
Trailer for The Walk on TrailerAddict.