“To walk on the wire…this is life.”
Maybe I would have liked The Walk more had I not revisited Man on Wire the night before, for the third time. The doc is on Netflix, Amazon Instant…there really is no excuse to have not seen it by now, because, as it stands alone, unattached and untethered from this mostly disastrous film by Robert Zemeckis, the former is simply told movie magic. That’s not the case with The Walk, a movie that tries to feel magical by playing magical. As any child could point out, with the greatest of ease, this film is a fraud. A direct and terribly color-corrected reproduction of the integral 2009 Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature. Most reviews you read will condemn the story and applaud the visual aesthetic of the end, which makes no sense. Great movies have stories that transcend their visual gimmicks; sub par ones, like this, quickly become antiquated, nothing more than stimulation for the eyes. The Walk is an extensively told trick with only wile up its sleeve.
Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) searches, with excessive aplomb, for the perfect place to suspend his wire for his dream. Petit is selfish, a self-policing officer of his own priorities waving himself through every intersection without cause or concern for others. Because it shadows the documentary itself so heavily, a medium built on voice-over narration, The Walk predetermines that it must similarly utilize the technique to no end. The finished product is, easily, some of the most intrusive and overpowering narration I have ever seen. You’d rather listen to Billy Mays sell Oxi Clean. The Walk has about as much defined time and space as a nondescript, unsigned and unmarked postcard mailed with no letter or writing. Ask no further questions and just return to sender.
The beginning is unconventional, and in more ways than one, clumsy and awkward. It’s Philippe, his face smothering the IMAX screen. He stands atop Lady Liberty’s flaming torch and goes about audaciously telling us his own story and says that people always ask him, “why?” And as you realize early on, in response to the story and the overall film, there is no why. No rhyme or reason or rhythm. The Walk has the fairy-tale color and design of a Tim Burton film without any of the personality. Gordon-Levitt clearly tries to play this character with charm, and instead his twee grins and brash personality clash. Petit, as shown here, is smug and cocky and arrogant. And he apparently wears heavy makeup, a bad toupee, and doesn’t have a grip on his own native tongue.
When Petit’s mentor Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) tells him, “you’re doing too much,” you sense as if Zemeckis is on a soapbox talking to himself. The first half of The Walk is some of the most poorly plotted and haphazardly executed scenes to come this year. Granted, once it wrestles itself from its technicolored daydream, going into full heist mode to pull off the wire walk, the film finds its bearings. Petit assembles a team to pull off his “coup.” None of them have defined roles in the ragtag group of anarchists because Philippe is the star. Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) is his support device. Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony) sits as the right-hand man, the only other vital individual to the stunt.
Philippe yearns to be considered an artist. For the masses to recognize his talent and his ability to do the impossible. What’s strange is that, for a movie about artistic integrity and beauty through optimistic cando effort, The Walk shows little concern or appreciation for the standards of cinema. Yes, the last half hour is amazing and the best use of the IMAX format I have seen. While Philippe promenades across the pitches of the misty New York skyline, a black smear in a blue sea, we are there with him. The cinematography is perfect, the shot choices literally over the top. As such, this ain’t a good date movie unless you’re into sweaty palms. Then and there is the only appropriate use of narration because, as he focuses on his wire and his act, it is the only way to emotionally connect to his character. The film finishes with a tribute to the towers, themselves more relatable and humanized than most of these people, and it’s fitting. But the story is not about the towers and the country’s loss. Or about New York and the wire. It is about Philippe and his endeavor. To connect with a character balancing 110 stories up in the air is easy. The Walk just doesn’t work on the ground, where the near religious force of wirewalking is traded in for stilted and fanciful reality.
“It’s impossible, but I’ll do it.”
Rating: 2 out of 5