At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Walk “2015”

MPAA Rating: PG/Genre: Docudrama/Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley, Clément Sibony, James Badge Dale, César Domboy, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel, Steve Valentine/Runtime: 123 minutes

I think it is safe to say that if you want the definition to the word marvel, you should make sure to look at it through the prism of either a noun or a verb. I say this because as a noun, this is a word that is best defined as “an incredible comic book company” ehhhh I mean “something that causes wonder, admiration, or astonishment.”  However, if you make the choice to utilize this word as a verb, then the meaning changes to “to wonder or be curious about.” The reason I bring this up is because the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2015’s The Walk, is one that is the rare slice of cinema that proves to be both definitions to the word marvel at the same time. This is because hearing about the feat that is at the heart of this slice of cinema will not only make you gasp and leave your jaw on the floor, but will also make you take note of just how astonishing the feat in question is whilst also making you want to learn a whole lot more about this story. Suffice it to say that whilst this slice of cinema might not be a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, there is also no denying that The Walk is a truly remarkable from both a performance to say nothing of a filmmaking perspective slice of cinema that I can promise will literally ensnare your attention and keep you hooked to the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

The plot is as follows: Taking us back in time to the 70s, we see the phrase “life is a show and we’re all merely performers in it” is especially true for a skilled performance artist by the name of Philippe Petit. Indeed here is a guy who takes as much great delight in ensnaring people’s attention on the streets of Paris with a fairly silly sleight of hand shtick as he does with a thrilling high-wire act where he walks the distance between a pair of trees. Yet we soon see that his true passion is not limited to just walking between trees. Rather, Petit is a guy who, since he stumbled upon an article about the building of the World Trade Center in NYC, has fantasized about walking a wire between the Two Towers. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that at first everyone who hears this dream of our intrepid hero thinks he is downright insane, but with the aid of his manic amounts of heart and drive, we see it doesn’t take much for him to bring together some people to aid him. This starts with his loving and loyal girlfriend Annie who is there to help keep him grounded and human and extends to his photographer/dear friend Jean-Louis and his grumpy yet wonderful mentor Papa Rudy. Yet despite having a solid foundation to make his dream a reality, we see that what Petit needs is some serious help with logistics. This is because not only will our intrepid hero need to utilize a distinct type of cable with a distinct type of support wires if he wants even a hope and prayer to pull this off, but he also will need to learn as much as possible about the schedules of the construction crew who are desperately trying to get done on the north tower. As a result, we see that not only will our hero have to travel to NYC, but also recruit even more “accomplices” into this slightly crazed scheme of his that will risk their safety let alone going to jail in order to help him. Yet before our hero takes even a single step, we see that he is going to need to make sure everything is where it needs to be let alone keep his emotions and ego in check if he wants a chance to show the world one of the riskiest feats a person ever took part in. As for whether or not he is successful or not that I will leave you to discover for yourself dear reader…..

Now it is no secret that for quite a while there, film helmer Robert Zemeckis had been consistently raising more than a few eyebrows both in the land of movie magic and amongst casual movie goers due to a very passionate affair he had been having…..with CGI animation blended together with motion capture. Indeed from the years 2004 to 2011, Zemeckis was at the helm of several CGI adaptations of The Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol, and even found the time to put on his producer’s hat for that weird Disney movie Mars Needs Moms which it is ok if you don’t remember…..trust me I wish I did. Suffice it to say that even though the quality of the work on display was very much open to debate, I think a lot of people started to wonder if the director who gave audiences such gems as Used Cars from 1980, Romancing the Stone from 1984, Who Framed Roger Rabbit from 1988, the Back to the Future trilogy, and of course Forrest Gump had made the choice to just plain and simply give up altogether on ever making a live action film again. Yet even though the 2012 slice of cinema Flight with Denzel Washington proved to be effective proof to the contrary, this slice of cinema also shows that perhaps the time Zemeckis spent tinkering away with CGI wasn’t a complete washout. I say this because even though this slice of cinema is by and large composed of sets and locales of a very practical nature, it is the just downright jaw-dropping work done by the CGI department which ultimately makes this slice of cinema whole whilst also thoroughly persuading you that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an experienced tightrope walker who is actually attempting what you are seeing unfold before your very eyes. Yes as I stated previously it’s a smorgasbord of CGI magic at work, but it is magic that is utilized so skillfully and with quite the remarkable degree of photo-realism to boot that you might find it downright difficult to not get wrapped up in what you are seeing unfold before you even whilst also maybe getting a wee bit dizzy due to how high up the main character is supposed to be (in other words: those of you out there with vertigo or a fear of heights may want to sit this one out. Just to be safe). At the same time though, that moment is just the proverbial money shot in this slice of cinema. What really winds up distinguishing this slice of cinema is how the beginning and middle of the film operate as if we are viewing a masterfully sculpted heist albeit one where no one is being robbed and instead a group is trying aid someone else in his dream of performing one of the most astonishing accomplishments of finesse and drive ever. Suffice it to say that it seems clear to me that Zemeckis is very much aware with how potent our intrepid hero’s heart and passion truly and through fully showing us Petit’s mindset as well as his task, particularly through brilliantly done and utilized narration of the 4th wall breaking variety, Zemeckis manages to sculpt a slice of cinema that not only will appeal to a wide variety of movie goers, but ensures that each person who watches this slice of cinema will be able to get a distinct emotional response out of as well.

Of course, I also feel it should be said that if you are one of those movie lovers out there who has already made the choice to embark along that distinct cinematic path of viewing a certain, and just as phenomenal, documentary about this very same subject matter entitled “Man on Wire” from 2008 then I can definitely respect those of you out there who might be scratching your head and wondering why in the world this slice of cinema needed to be made in the first place. Well I think that the best manner in answering your question is to say that the documentary is exactly how this series of fortunate events managed to play out whereas this slice of cinema is a retelling of those same fortunate events albeit with a fictional bent to them. No this slice of cinema might not be 110% on point when it comes to who, what, when, where, why, and how, but at the same time it does at the very least hook you in and then take your hand and take you on a truly remarkable odyssey in a manner that the documentary was not able to. Put another way: the documentary is only able to show you how passionate this guy is and was about accomplishing this particular task, but this slice of cinema is able to do both that and also give you the exhilarating feeling of being on the wire with him. It is with that in mind that I should point out the casting in this slice of cinema. This is because, I must confess dear reader, even though everyone involved does bring their best to their respective roles whilst also helping to make this worthy as a companion piece to the aforementioned documentary, there are a few individuals who I feel must be mentioned slightly more than everyone else. This starts with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role of Phillipe and even though it might take you a wee bit of time to get onboard with Levitt’s rather….distinct shall we say attempt at the French accent, but his heart and level of devotion to this part is downright remarkable. Indeed all you need to do is look into the eyes of Levitt and you’re able to see not only the possibly insane dream, but also his passion and drive to make it happen as well and you literally find yourself drawn just as much as everyone else in this slice of cinema to help make his dream a reality. As wonderful as Levitt’s work in this slice of cinema is, we see that we also get equally as impressive work from Charlotte Le Bon. Indeed not only does Le Bon do a wonderful job as Petit’s lady love, but she also helps keep him human and grounded and she and Levitt have wonderful chemistry together. As for the third person in the acting trinity worth mentioning, that would be the always enjoyable whenever he pops up in something Ben Kingsley as Petit’s mentor of sorts Papa Rudy. Indeed in Kingsley’s hands this man becomes more than an instructor. Rather, he gives off the vibe that he is a guy who is teaching his son to do a task that, as much of a veteran as he is in their respective world, even he wouldn’t have the stones to go out and take on and the bond his character has with Levitt’s Petit is not only well-done, but beautifully human and emotional as well.

All in all can I honestly say that the remarkable story of the equally as remarkable man that is Philippe Petit would have made its way to audiences as a slice of fictional cinema had the immense tragedy that occurred on 9/11 not occurred at all? Truthfully dear reader I don’t know if I can answer that. What I can say though is that the day of infamy did tragically occur and for what it’s worth the slice of cinema that is The Walk is, from a cinematic point of view, a touching and wonderful film to behold in how it proves to be just as much a rousing tribute to the Towers themselves as it is to the incredible human forces of heart and passion respectively. Yes it may be a tad bit slow to get the ball rolling, but that lethargy actually manages to work to this slice of cinema’s benefit as it transforms itself into a vibe of eager anticipation that is on the level of our intrepid hero’s own unyielding drive and dogged determination to accomplish this dream of his. However, once the action makes its way to New York City and this slice of cinema starts to devote itself to the scheme for the titular walk among some other significant details, this slice of cinema is able to soar on a truly phenomenal level whilst also capturing the attention of the movie goer as not just a visual treat, but a truly special film on an emotional level as well. Suffice it to say that The Walk is not only a truly beautiful slice of cinema, but also a genuine gem of the world of movie magic in the tragic aftermath of 9/11 that I definitely think everyone needs to see at least once. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Walk “2015” a solid 3.5 out of 5.