The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Walk

Heights scare the bejesus out of me. Let's get that out of the way early. I'll do roller coasters, I'll go up in skyscraper, and the upper upper deck at a baseball game doesn't do me in. But something about heights, it just gets me. So naturally 2015's The Walk seems a perfect fit for this guy, doesn't it? Putting aside my genuine fear, I still had to check it out!

Working on the streets of Paris in the early 1970's, 20-something Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a street performer who specializes in sleight of hand, magic, his mime-esque performances and above all, performing tricks on a rope he ties up and acts as a street-improvised "high-wire." He's worked for years to improve and become great as he performs his high wire act, but for several years now, he's had one huge dream. Philippe wants nothing more than to string a high-wire at the very top of the newly-built World Trade Center towers in New York City. It seems impossible for any number of reasons from the whole it's illegal to do it to the obvious and inherent dangers, but Philippe will hear none of it. He will get it done no matter the risks. Assembling a small crew of friends and accomplices to help him pull off his "coup," Philippe begins to put it all together, hopefully pulling off the impossible high-wire act.

I saw the trailer for this film from director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump) and was instantly hooked. The camera flies up the still under construction World Trade Center, finally revealing where it is at the top of the tower when a man walks out toward the ledge and proceeds to almost walk off, only to stop and balance off a steel beam. How about that for going for the jugular, huh? I must have seen the preview for Zemeckis' film each time I went and saw a new flick in theaters. Finding out it was based on a true story, I went into curiosity lockdown, not wanting to know what really happened on the World Trade Center in 1974. If you don't know already, I recommend doing the same. Go in with a clean slate and no knowledge of where 'Walk' is going.

So how does the finished product measure up against the impressive trailer? It's a good film, a very interesting story, but not one I loved. I liked it. In a way, 'Walk' is impressive because it is simply a story about a man trying to achieve his dream. Though there is a love interest, it isn't a love story. There's adventure, but it isn't an adventure film. It is a solid, well-told character study of a man -- Philippe Petit (<--- avoid="" don="" if="" nbsp="" p="" pesky="" spoilers="" t="" those="" want="" you="">
Long since removed from his Third Rock from the Sun days, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the best actors working out there. He dove headfirst into this role, both learning how to speak French and more importantly, to look like a competent high-wire walker. It is a performance bursting with energy, Petit coming to life with a glee for life, a stubbornness to do what others say he can't, and maybe an obsession. The French accent gets laid on a little thick at times, and through no fault of his own, the performance does hit some overdone moments, but I'll give credit. It is a very interesting part for a very talented actor. Petit is an artist who isn't doing his death-defying stunt for publicity or fame or money. He sees something beautiful and simply wants to do his act, do something profound and beautiful, while paying tribute to something so awe-inspiring as the towers of the World Trade Center.

The rest of the cast is solid, but nothing flashy. Charlotte Le Bon is Annie, Philippe's supportive girlfriend who begins to realize how truly driven her boyfriend is to accomplish the walk. Clement Sibony plays Jean-Louis, Philippe's closest friend, confidante in his "coup," and right-hand man in putting it all together. Oh, he's also the official photographer! Their motley crew of assistants and accomplices is headlined by the always solid James Badge Dale as J.P., a New Yorker with some connections, and Steve Valentine as Barry, the inside man working at the World Trade Center. The team also includes Cesar Domboy, Ben Schwartz and Benedict Samuel. And last but not least, Ben Kingsley is excellent in a supporting part as Papa Rudy, Philippe's mentor and teacher who tries to teach him all the ins and outs of being a high-wire performer.

Admission of guilt...I didn't see 'Walk' in 3-D. Maybe I should have. Why? Well, there's that whole walking between the World Trade Center towers scene....if you're into that sort of thing. It's an incredible sequence that really puts into perspective the absolute insanity of what Philippe is attempting to do. He can do everything humanly possible and still fail because the wind picks up, he loses focus, his equipment fails, any and all. The build-up can be a touch slow in the process getting to this point, but the high-wire finale is well worth the price of admission (3-D or not). My counter is that the actual build-up to the act is far better. What Philippe intends to do is HIGHLY ILLEGAL so it's not like he can just walk up to the still under-construction tower and do his thing.

The end result? An extended sequence of about 25-30 minutes of Philippe and his team of accomplices getting into place. It develops like a heist sequence and for me at least, was absolutely as intense and riveting as the actual high-wire act. A spectacle movie with some character and heart, it's a flick well worth catching up with. As for the 3-D, that's up to you. A good movie is a good movie regardless of where or how you see it.

The Walk (2015): ***/****

1 comment: