Magazine article Screen International

'The Walk': Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Walk': Review

Article excerpt

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 offto 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 LeftBank pitch invaded by Petit soon yields to his persuasive romantic interest. …

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