The Walk reviews

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Re: The Walk reviews

Postby Kellens101 » Mon Oct 12, 2015 5:52 am

What did you think of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance? Was he the best part of the film or was he just as bland and vanilla as the film?

The Original BJ
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Re: The Walk reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Oct 12, 2015 1:06 am

I must admit some surprise at the extent to which this movie has done a box office face plant -- usually something this vanilla isn't such a significant audience repellent. And yet, I'd hardly recommend it to anyone either. The biggest issue with the movie is that its story amounts to little more than an anecdote. Man on Wire at least seemed aware of this, and used it to its advantage -- by having Petit recount his story from decades on, the documentary was able to explore the experience of an individual who knew that the peak achievement of his life was both utterly spectacular and completely insignificant. The Walk, though, really struggles with the fact that its story just doesn't have much meat to it.

But even beyond that, I wasn't nearly as impressed with the walk sequence as many critics have been. It's certainly well-visualized technically, but I never found it the cinematic wow I expected it to be. Part of this is that a lot of the tonal details felt off -- if I were a friend or loved one watching on the street below, I'd be freaked as F*CK over what I were witnessing, not brimming with triumphant pride. And if I were the cops trying to handle the situation at the top of the towers, I certainly wouldn't be cracking jokes while watching a guy literally a pinky toe away from instant death. It feels a bit like everyone in the movie knows Petit is going to get out of this alive...and as an audience member watching, I have to admit that knowing everything worked out all right was a major suspense-killer throughout the film's last chunk. (I can't say this portion of the movie made me nauseous either, the way reports from early screenings suggested, but of course, everyone's mileage may vary on that.)

I did think the last beat ended the film on a poignant note -- I mean, you pretty much know what the last shot is going to be, but it's hard not to be moved by the detail that sets it up. But on the whole, I found this movie an extremely ho-hum affair.

Mister Tee
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The Walk reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 26, 2015 2:59 pm

I have to say, I was rooting for this to be an outright dog -- not for aesthetic reasons, but because I have severe acrophobia, and the idea of spending half a movie with my stomach in knots is unappealing. But it sounds like it's to be seen, for techs if nothing else.

Hollywood Reporter
David Rooney

The Bottom Line
Forget the clumsy foreplay and stick around for the bravura finale.

Robert Zemeckis' The Walk is all about "the walk." That's to say, the movie comes to dazzling life in its spectacular final 40 minutes or so, when Philippe Petit, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, saunters out on a cable and gives us a vertiginous view of the French tightrope walker's 1974 aerial feat, when he tiptoed across the clouds between the towers of the World Trade Center. Harnessing the wizardry of 3-D IMAX to magnify the sheer transporting wonder, the you-are-there thrill of the experience, the film's payoff more than compensates for a lumbering setup, laden with cloying voiceover narration and strained whimsy.

Zemeckis' delivery of such a sustained money shot — literally breathtaking, stomach-churning, sweat-inducing and exhilarating — should ensure solid numbers for Sony. American audiences, in particular, will respond to the unspoken coda of the Twin Towers' destruction, which gives the film an emotional resonance that might otherwise have been more muted.

Sharing screenwriting credit with newcomer Christopher Browne, Zemeckis adapted the true story from Petit's memoir, To Reach the Clouds. The director goes back to his Forrest Gump playbook by having his protagonist narrate the story every painstaking step of the way. This proves a big hurdle as Gordon-Levitt's mop-top Philippe opens with some cringe-inducing direct-address, musing on the obvious question of "Why...? Pourquoi…?" in a cheesy French accent. The clunky framing device gets worse when the camera pans back to find him perched in the Statue of Liberty's torch, although the digital recreation of early-'70s Lower Manhattan that he surveys is indeed impressive.

In his gripping 2008 documentary account of Petit's career-defining act of subversive performance art, Man on Wire, director James Marsh made no excuses for the egomaniacal side of his subject. Zemeckis tries to get around that by making him a cute imp who pedals away on a unicycle when he's kicked out of home by his father. But in Gordon-Levitt's self-regarding performance, the character is borderline obnoxious, right up until he acquires some vulnerability by virtue of the void stretching out beneath him.

The film also works too hard at injecting charm into Petit's back story, not to mention finding contrived reasons for him to speak English with the band of "accomplices" he assembles in Paris as he prepares for his coup. The idea of a Frenchman obsessed with conquering America is subliminally planted early via not one but three French-language versions of jukebox classics — "Sugar Sugar," "Black is Black,""These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." And Philippe's guitar-strumming sweetheart Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) is introduced crooning Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" en francais.

Zemeckis uses the jazzy strains of Alan Silvestri's score to instill the feel of a crime caper or a heist movie, but for much of the running time, conflict remains absent. Photographer Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony) signs on to help, also enlisting Jean-Francois (Cesar Domboy), a math whiz who speaks little English and is terrified of heights. The most significant embellishment to the story as chronicled in Man on Wire is Philippe's mentor Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), the patriarch of a funambulist dynasty whose gruff exterior veils the heart of a twinkly-eyed softie.

Only when the action moves to New York does the film shift gears and gain lasting traction. A handful of American accomplices are brought on board, notably Barry Greenhouse (Steve Valentine), an insurance broker with an office high up in one of the World Trade Center towers. But this is a movie in which the characters and their dialogue remain secondary to the complicated logistics of their undertaking. And unsurprisingly for a filmmaker like Zemeckis, who has shown a defining fascination with technological magic, it's the focus on the specifics — research, planning, rigging, setbacks and lucky breaks — that finally tightens the storytelling grip.

Working with cinematographer Dariuzs Wolski and a crack visual effects team, the director puts us 110 stories off the ground and dares us to look over the edge. Despite a preordained outcome that pretty much nixes any element of surprise, he builds suspense into the placement of the cable and its strategic support wires, the last-minute defection of jittery team members, the appearance of security guards and the more surreal introduction of a "mysterious visitor," who appears on the rooftop at the eleventh hour like some kind of brooding Don Draper stepping into a dream.

The movie truly soars the minute Philippe steps out on that wire, amplifying its awe factor as a crowd gathers on the street below to stare up in amazement. It may fumble the preamble but The Walk works where it counts most, creating something of balletic beauty out of an act that otherwise remains inscrutable to the screenwriters.

Of course, none of this is great news for the actors, including Gordon-Levitt. Despite his intense physicality and manic energy, both the character and performance remain constricted by a script that tells rather than explores. "I am mad. I am insane. I am totally crazee," admits Philippe in a moment of typically bald self-analysis that precludes psychological complexity. The film also glosses over the evaporation of his bond with Annie and Jean-Louis immediately after the coup, sacrificing some of the poignancy that Marsh summoned in Man on Wire.

Zemeckis does emphasize the point that New Yorkers were ambivalent about the towers that so radically altered the Manhattan skyline, crediting Petit's captivating stunt with engendering affection for the twin steel-and-glass monoliths as construction neared completion. The choice to allude only obliquely to their disappearance after the Sept. 2001 terrorist attacks, via a somber fade in the closing shot, shows welcome restraint in a movie whose final-act achievements erase the shortcomings of its belabored buildup.

Peter Debruge
Chief International Film Critic @AskDebruge

In “The Walk,” Robert Zemeckis dares audiences to look down, zooming fast as gravity past 110 stories from the top of the World Trade Center to the expectant faces on the crowd below. A quarter of a mile above, daredevil high-wire artist Philippe Petit (as played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) soft-shoes between New York City’s two tallest buildings in a breathtaking stunt the lunatic Frenchman believes could be “the most audacious work of art that has ever been done.” For a man whose name literally means “little,” Petit sure talks a big game. Luckily, Zemeckis shares his gift for hyperbole, and together, they recreate the wild dream as only cinema can, giving audiences a 3D, all-angle view of an experience that, until now, only one man on earth could claim to have lived. Ultimately, its commercial fate will depend on word of mouth, as a New York Film Fest kick-off and nine-day Imax opening stretch inspire audiences to talk the “The Walk.”

Certainly, what Zemeckis delivers here is an entirely different brand of spectacle from that which audiences have come to expect from recent studio tentpoles, sharing a true story so incredible it literally must be seen to be believed, as opposed to imaginary feats full of impossible CG creatures. Speaking of tentpoles, “The Walk” takes its cues from the circus, where 8-year-old Philippe first laid eyes on a tightrope act and from which his flamboyant performance style eventually sprung, with the coaching of Franco-Czech circus honcho Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley, sporting a wild Europudding accent worthy of “The Room’s” Tommy Wiseau).

Gordon-Levitt was always going to be a strange choice to play Philippe Petit, a hyper-kinetic and highly gesticulative showman with impish blue eyes, wild orange hair and a thick French accent — none of them qualities that audiences associate with the brooding “Looper” star. Resemblance matters, since the Trade Center coup has made Petit an international celebrity of sorts, his story known by children (a significant percentage of the PG-rated film’s intended audience) and retold in James Marsh’s terrific 2008 documentary “Man on Wire.”

That’s a problem for the marketing department, who must battle whatever resistance audiences have to watching the kid from “Third Rock from the Sun” gad about in a weird wig and contacts, though it’s quickly forgotten in the context of the film certainly, it’s no worse a distraction than Johnny Depp’s “Black Mass” performance, though Gordon-Levitt goes to the additional trouble of delivering a significant portion of his dialogue in French). Whatever one thinks of the accent, Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne have captured Petit’s voice, and Gordon-Levitt wins us over from the outset, hanging out in the Statue of Liberty’s torch, from which he narrates “The Walk” while enjoying a clear view of the Twin Towers that dwarfed lower Manhattan until that fateful day in 2001.

Of course, no film can touch on these landmarks without conjuring memories of their tragic collapse, though “The Walk” reminds us that while New Yorkers still bond over the question, “Where were you on 9/11?” a quarter century earlier, before the South Tower was even finished, witnesses of Petit’s walk were forever transformed by what they saw. (That very notion inspired Colum McCann to write his brilliant tapestry novel “Let the Great World Spin,” which revolves around Petit’s high-wire act and “the ordinary people on the street, the ones who walked a tightrope just one inch off the ground”).

Few filmmakers have accomplished more seemingly impossible feats onscreen than Zemeckis, and here, the director brings his magician’s ability to blend character and technology in such a way that virtuoso style seems to spring organically from the material itself. There are moments in “The Walk” where the camera does impossible things, whether hovering above Philippe’s head as he balances some 1,300 feet off the ground or peering through an advertisement torn from a French magazine, upon which Philippe has doodled a thin line between the not-yet-built Trade Center towers.

Philippe sees the world differently, and that alone makes him an infectious protagonist. He carries a small length of red cord in his pocket, holding it up to distant landmarks to imagine a wire suspended there. After an early failure that ended with him belly-flopping off his cable into a shallow lake, Philippe passed a wire between the twin belfries of Notre Dame Cathedral and got himself arrested for walking it. His performances may be victimless crimes, but they are crimes nonetheless, and the fact that Philippe and his crew must plan the Trade Center coup in secret lends it much of its suspense. After all, they’re defying not just gravity, but the laws of polite society as well.

Much of what made Marsh’s “Man on Wire” so thrilling was the fact that the director had approached Petit’s story like a caper film. Though Zemeckis follows a more linear trajectory — spending the better part of the first hour in Paris, where Philippe falls for street musician Annie (saucer-eyed Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon) and enlists her photographer friend Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony) — “The Walk” shares the white-knuckle sense that the Trade Center performance must be planned and executed with the precision of a bank heist, a sensibility reflected in Alan Silvestri’s light-string score, which alternates between insistent and inspiring as the suspense level requires.

We see Philippe, forever the clown, don an elaborate series of disguises as he and his friends case the joint — a job made considerably easier after stepping on a nail forces him to use crutches, even if the foot injury is sure to complicate the stunt itself. Bringing three accomplices over from France, Philippe recruits a handful of Americans, including wild-mustachioed Steve Valentine as their inside man and James Badge Dale as a slick electronics salesman. Philippe may not be short on charisma, but Dale gets to do the fancy talking — and steals nearly every scene he’s in — whenever they’re trying to hide their French accents.

While Gallic buddy Jean-Louis takes the North Tower, Zemeckis follows Philippe and afraid-of-heights friend Jeff (Cesar Domboy) infiltrate the South one. Not yet open to the public, the building’s work-site hazards are every bit as unsafe as an under-construction Death Star. Zemeckis can get a little carried away at moments like these, indulging a “Vertigo”-like fantasy in which Jeff goes spinning off into the open elevator shaft where Philippe and Jeff duck to hide from a passing security guard — though it’s helpful to remember that he’s playing to his widest potential audience since “The Polar Express,” and he’s trying to psyche the kiddies up for the main attraction, once the guard leaves and the men can finally step out onto the observation deck.

Oddly, the rooftop scenes yield some of the movie’s least cinematic footage, a bit too obviously shot on ground-level soundstages (though real-life details keep things lively, as in an amusing bit where Philippe inexplicably strips off all his clothes to retrieve the arrow shot between the towers). Maybe Zemeckis is just saving his mojo for the moment when the wire is finally suspended between the buildings and Philippe is ready to take his first step out into the void.

How long can you hold your breath? For the next 17 minutes, Philippe is free as a bird — as is d.p. Dariusz Wolski’s often-virtual camera, occasionally relying on performance-capture and other visual-effects tricks that he and Zemeckis innovated during their ugly, but ultimately useful all-CG phase. As Philippe moves back and forth between the towers, pausing to sit, look down and taunt the police officers gathering on either roof, Zemeckis puts stereoscopic 3D to maximum advantage: gazing from above, the wire rests just below screen level, we hover above, and Ground Zero sits a full quarter-mile in the distance.

A shame then that the Imax version Sony screened at the New York Film Festival (the same one they will be releasing on Sept. 30) takes so little advantage of the high-res format. The digitally projected picture appears fuzzy and out-of-focus on such a big screen. When crowds gaze up at Philippe’s performance, their faces are little more than blurred orbs. We yearn to see their expressions, to share in their wonder. “The Walk” is an event to be witnessed, and too much of the detail seems lost on such an enormous format, though in addition to being a staggering spectacle, it is also an imminently relatable human story, and that should read loud and clear on any screen.

Screen Daily
By Charles Gant

Dir. Robert Zemeckis. US, 2015, 123 minutes

Gravity with skyscrapers: taking a page out of the Alfonso Cuaron playbook, Robert Zemeckis aims for blockbuster success by reaching for, and in fact delivering, a big-screen experience that cinemagoers have never previously sampled. Telling the story of French wirewalker Philippe Petit’s daring exploits a quarter of a mile up in the air between the World Trade Center’s twin towers in August 1974, The Walk is never better than when it is bringing amply evident creative and technical skill to make us woozy with vertigo – further amplified in IMAX 3D.

Premiering as opening night of the New York Film Festival and inevitably drawing on the emotional connection between audiences and the iconic focal point of the modern age’s most notorious terrorist attack, Zemeckis offers a love letter to the buildings by celebrating a magical moment near the start of their too-brief life.

The filmmaker says he was inspired originally by Mordicai Gerstein’s 2003 picture book The Man Who Walked Between The Towers, rather than James Marsh’s 2008 documentary Man on Wire. And the upscale cinemagoers that saw the latter are certainly not the audience targeted here: producer, director and co-writer Zemeckis aims bold and broad, with a genre melder that begins as an antic caper, mutates into a heist thriller, and then finally delivers the visceral and poetic spectacle that is the film’s real USP. Casting choices that nimbly swerve past A-list options feel nicely apt in a film where the towers, after all, are the stars.

The Walk gets off to a bumpy start. Audiences must first adjust to a heavily French-accented, English-speaking Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who in his black polo-neck jersey and elfin crop is only a beret and a dangling Gauloise away from parodic stereotype. An early black-and-white segment features Petit as a unicycle-riding, juggling mime-artist street performer, before a flashback introduces his early intoxication with circus acrobatics at the age of eight. In the early running, the film feels mostly like a whimsical fable – a corny Hollywood attempt at Jean-Pierre Jeunet, perhaps – and it’s not really helped by a characteristically committed turn by Ben Kingsley as Petit’s early circus mentor, Papa Rudi.

The first act also ushers in Charlotte Le Bon as pretty street busker Annie, whose initial vexation at having her Paris Left Bank pitch invaded by Petit soon yields to his persuasive romantic interest. The pair acquires a third wheel when a young man called Jean-Louis (Clemont Sibony) agrees to accompany them to New York to photograph the high-rise exploits. Much of the dialogue here is in English – a fact which the screenplay clumsily draws attention to by having Petit regularly remind everyone that they need to practise the language ahead of their American adventure.

Still, It’s around this point that The Walk begins to find its stride, as the trio relocates to Manhattan and then recruits further accomplices, creating a team of seven, plus inside man Barry (Steve Valentine), who works in an office on the 82nd floor of the North tower. Petit and his men prove creatively adept imposters as they negotiate security checks to bring their equipment to the summit, and the wirewalker shrugs off the bloody damage caused when he steps on a plank of wood and plunges an exposed nail into the sole of his foot.

All of these sequences provide a lengthy hors d’hoeuvre before the main meal, which is Petit’s self-termed “coup”. And it’s here that the film most benefits from the audience’s special relationship with the towers, and their traumatic erasure. Zemeckis pulls out all the stops, including a dramatic burst of Beethoven’s rolling piano composition Fur Elise, as Petit traverses the distance several times between the North and South skyscrapers, pausing to kneel, straddle and perform for the swelling crowd below. Gordon-Levitt’s voiceover finally finds its true calling in this magical segment, which gives the appearance of faithfully reproducing every step of the way, but is compressed from a high-wire event that in fact lasted 45 minutes. Jeopardy – from wind, an incorrectly mounted support cable, the cops who arrive at the scene, and Petit’s own nerves as he returns from the wire to the observatory deck – feels impactfully real, even though the outcome is never in doubt.

Tech contributions are impressive in all departments, but none more so than in the field of visual effects, credited primarily to Rodeo FX and Atomic Fiction. By seamlessly blending Gordon-Levitt on his high wire, shot on a Montreal sound stage, with buildings that no longer exist, and the familiar Manhattan skyline, Zemeckis reminds us that it’s in the service of reality, rather than fantasy, that digital technology is often most potent.

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