Review: THE WALK (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 19 October 2015

Review: THE WALK (2015)

Robert Zemeckis successfully brought Philippe Petit's true story to life with an inspiring, yet spectacular cinematic experience best seen in IMAX 3D.

The incredible true story of French high-wire walker Philippe Petit, who successfully pulled off a wire-walking performance between the north and south side of the World Trade Center in 1974, has been featured before in James Marsh's Oscar-winning documentary MAN ON WIRE (2008). Now, seven years later, Robert Zemeckis recreates the same event in a narrative format with his co-writer Christopher Browne. The result is a remarkable cinematic re-telling that captured the spirit of Petit's world-famous event.


Adapted from Petit's 2002 memoir To Reach the Clouds, the story begins with Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) made his living as a street performer in the city of Paris. One day while visiting a dentist after one of his street acts gone wrong, he stumbles upon a magazine that features an image of the New York City's World Trade Center. From here, we get to know how he meets circus extraordinaire Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), who subsequently mentored Petit the proper way of wire-walking technique. He also meets a beautiful street musician Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who later becomes his girlfriend and partner to help him fulfil his mission of staging a daring wire-walking act atop the World Trade Center. Subsequent accomplices, including photographer Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), mathematician Jeff (Cesar Domboy), insurance broker Barry Greenhouse (Steve Valentine) and electronics salesman J.P. (James Badge Dale), enter the picture and assist Petit throughout the mission in various capacities.


Thanks to Zemeckis' snappy and confident direction, the movie opens promisingly with a scene where Petit narrates his story atop the Statue of Liberty. Likewise, he has a keen eye for incredible visual storytelling such as presenting the earlier Paris scene in black and white with partial colour. He also shows a steady hand in developing Petit's backstory with a subtle character-driven drama. Best of all, the drama is executed in a breezy manner that doesn't feel long-winded or laborious.

Then comes the scene where Petit and his accomplices begin setting their sights on the World Trade Center. Here, Zemeckis shifts the dramatic tone of the first half seamlessly to a livelier second half during the New York scene. Like MAN ON WIRE, the scene is brilliantly staged like a heist caper as we witness how Petit and his accomplices infiltrating the World Trade Center. The inclusion of Alan Silvestri's jazzy score and Jeremiah O'Driscoll's crisp editing makes the scene all the more entertaining to watch for.

The cast is all top notch. I was sceptical at first when I learned Joseph Gordon-Levitt was chosen to play the young Philippe Petit. After all, Zemeckis could have hired a French actor instead. But his gamble pays off handsomely as Gordon-Levitt doesn't sound phony when he speaks with a French accent. He also brings so much energy and enthusiasm that it's hard not to root for his character. Charlotte Le Bon delivers a sweet, yet likable performance as Annie. The rest of supporting cast, including Clement Sibony, Cesar Domboy, Steve Valentine and James Badge Dale, is equally worthwhile. Not to forget is Ben Kingsley, who gives a solid support as Papa Rudy.


The final 20 minutes are especially breathtaking, as Zemeckis and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski pulls out all the stops and made the best use of stereoscopic 3D during Petit's famous wire-walking sequence between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The scene is best seen in the IMAX 3D as the particular format really makes you feel as if you are there with Petit walking on the wire over 1,300 feet above the ground. There's even a few vertigo-inducing moments such as the scene where Wolski's camerawork focusing on Petit's point-of-view as he takes one step at a time on the wire.


If there's any complaint about this movie, I would say some of the computer-generated effects during the climactic wire-walking scene looks too obvious.


THE WALK is a proof that it's possible to make a large-scale movie with a moderate budget. How moderate? Believe it or not, this movie cost an estimated US$35 million that looks like it should have been three figures instead. Yes, it's true that the effects are sometimes spotty. But nevertheless, THE WALK deserves a place as Zemeckis' best live-action movie to date since CAST AWAY (2000).

* This review is written courtesy from Sony Pictures Malaysia IMAX 3D press screening *

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