Spectacle soars, storyline bores
Ever since reaching the age of about 12, when I rose to the challenges of secondary school, I have suffered from a fear of heights.
Why it waited until then to surface, I have no idea but it’s fair to say contemplating a wee stroll more than 1300 feet off the ground wouldn’t be high on my list of priorities.
As true stories go, though, you don’t get much more dramatic than French tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s daring high-wire balancing act between New York’s World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974.
The astonishing tale has already received the big screen documentary treatment in 2008’s excellent, Oscar-winning Man on Wire, and now Robert Zemeckis goes down the sort-ofbiopic route with Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring as Petit.
Man on Wire did such a great job of bringing Petit’s spectacular stunt into multiplexes to ensure The Walk has a job on its hand to prove it’s a worthwhile exercise.
The main selling point of the trailers were the dizzying special effects and Zemeckis nails the spectacle with high and low angle camera shots – made all the more effective by the choice to also release the film in immersive 3D.
For all of Man on Wire’s jaw-dropping still images and footage of Petit’s aerial awesomeness, there’s an added thrill to joining the Frenchman out on the wire as he dices with death. The cinematography by Pole Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean series) is top notch and the sound design adds to the drama with chilling moments of stillness and developing wind before and during Petit’s daring sky high escapade.
Where the movie falls down, however, is when Petit and the cast of supporting characters are at ground level.
Zemeckis and debut big-screen scribe Christopher Browne adapt Petit’s own book To Reach the Clouds but outside of the leading man, no-one else is able – or allowed – to make much of an impression.
That would be fine if Gordon-Levitt put in a soaring turn to stand up alongside others in his impressive back catalogue but it’s not just the French accent that he struggles with.
The bizarre decision to saddle him with CGI blue eyes when good old-fashioned contact lenses would surely have done the job is distracting and, rather than willing his Petit to nail his stunt, you’re not given enough reason to care if he decides to actually give it a miss.
Focus on Petit’s earlier life feels like padding and Zemeckis should also have left the moments his star talks directly to the camera and the clunky narration on the cutting room floor.
Perhaps inevitably, given the remarkable true-life set piece at its core, The Walk is a classic case of spectacle over story that should be seen on as big a screen as possible. Did absolutely nothing for my fear of heights, though.
Don’t look down Gordon-Levitt prepares for his stunt