“They call to me…”
What does ‘The Walk’ do that ‘Man On Wire’ didn’t? That’s the main question I had before viewing ‘The Walk.’ Of course, ‘The Walk’ is a film, whilst ‘Man On Wire’ is a documentary. But what could justify a revisit to a story we were told in 2008? Despite the ADD nature of today’s society, our memories aren’t that bad! The biggest selling point of ‘The Walk’ was seeing Phillipe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. It wasn’t captured on camera in 1974. Unfortunately, the walk wasn’t all it’s been cracked up to be. And the rest of the film left me wondering why they had bothered in the first place…
Let me get one of the positives out of the way with to begin. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a great job of being Phillipe Petit. He manages to make a loathsome character someone to care about. When you think about it, Petit is one arrogant man. He thinks he’s superior to everyone else. Consider the first scenes, when he has his ‘perfect circle’ and no one is allowed in it. Really? He’s just selfish and uses his ‘friends.’ He uses the term ‘accomplices’ for them! He’s putting their well-being at risk, and risking their arrest, so he can do a tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. Petit is a man obsessed with one goal, and he’ll do anything to achieve it. Admirable, yes, but in the hands of many other actors, Petit would have come across as a repellent. However, Gordon-Levitt, along with a good French accent, engages us from the start. He’s still everything I described above, but still a little likeable!
“They just rise up and never stop”
We are initially greeted by Petit addressing us on the top of the Statue of Liberty. Yes, folks, it seems like we need narration for this film! Gordon-Levitt does a great job of breaking the fourth wall, but the narration distracts from rather than adds to the story. It’s a stifling monologue that interrupts scenes by telling us what’s going on. Voice-overs in films are a tough trick to pull off, and it isn’t wholly pulled off in ‘The Walk.’ It tells us all we need to know about his ‘accomplices,’ so there’s no room for them to develop as characters (they are poorly developed anyway!). Most of the time the narration interferes with the flow of the film. Hearing Petit’s ceaseless rambling undoes the good work of Gordon-Levitt and made me almost beg for the walk to begin, just for a minute or two or silence! Of course, the narration follows us on the tightrope walk as well…
The walk is what the film is all about. The rest of the story is tacked together from Petit’s background to the heist-like nature of organizing the walk. No amount of narration or Ben Kingsley can make up for the lack of story. In all fairness, as Petit takes his first steps on the rope, stretching out “to infinity,” there is palpable tension in the air. It feels like paying extra for the 3D experience was worthwhile. However, the tension soon disappears. He walks quite easily over to the other side…but then decides to walk back across the rope! Due to police involvement, he walks back to the other side, and back again…no matter if that’s how it happened in real life, it became boring. There’s a moment with a pigeon that is laughable. Petit showing off destroyed any fear that he might fall off. For all of the build-up, the actual walk fell flat. Typical Hollywood, showing us something that should only exist in our imaginations!
“This dude is righteous”
Essentially, it’s a love letter about the Twin Towers. From the perfectly framed visuals of the towers, to the swooping camerawork and long, gazing looks at the towers, this is what the film is about. We climb up and down them several times, from the outside, in elevators, in stairs. The film is just as obsessed with the towers as Petit. At the beginning of the film, the towers are called ugly, like massive “filing cabinets.” Towards the end of the film, one of his accomplices tells Petit that people now love the towers, because he has “given them a soul.” All of that talk contradicts the nature of Petit’s act, in the eyes of his friends. Petit’s accomplices talk about him committing a revolutionary act. It’s an act of anarchy that will be remembered forever. The ‘heist’ act, where they are infiltrating the towers, could easily be the set-up for a terrorist attack. I suppose the tightrope walk is a contrast to 9/11. Why don’t we remember something good about the towers rather than 9/11? But it’s all eerily similar. A revolutionary act that will be remembered forever? An act of anarchy? A man who’s obsessed about the towers? As Petit constantly refers to the act as “le coup,” it becomes quite sinister. The director of ‘Man on Wire’ said that he didn’t refer to 9/11 in any way because “would be unfair and wrong to infect his story with any mention, discussion or imagery of the Towers being destroyed.” At the end of ‘The Walk,’ Petit shows us his pass to the North Tower’s observation tower. The expiration date is forever, and Petit’s smile fades as the camera focuses on the Twin Towers. Obviously, we know that they won’t last forever. So why the last minute invocation of 9/11?
‘The Walk’ definitely does not justify its existence. The build-up to the walk itself is slow and plodding. Maybe with half an hour or so shaved off, it could have been tolerable. However, we almost have to have two hour plus films nowadays. So time passes slowly before the walk, as we are constantly told what is happening by the irritating narration. It turns out that the build-up wasn’t worth it at all. The tightrope walk veers from silliness to absurdity, losing all tension it possessed in the first few seconds. Gordon-Levitt is the film’s only saving grace, but even his entertainment value slackens as the films plods on. Hollywood, some things should be left to the imagination!
VERDICT: 3/10. The film is called ‘The Walk,’ so I was prepared to slog through 90 minutes of banality to experience ‘The Walk.’ But the walk itself is ponderous and uninspiring.