Skip to main content

Yes, I am mad. But this, this is my dream.

The Walk
(2015)

(SPOILERS) The first half hour of The Walk is so tonally at a loss, I feared the entire movie would be a bust. Robert Zemeckis mistakes the France-set, laboured scene-setting antics of Phillippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) for disarming charm and a zesty tone. This, combined with Gordon-Levitt’s ‘Allo ‘Allo! French accent, suggests a fundamental miscalculation from the bottom up, a blunder as inadvisable as its director’s decision to spend a decade in world of motion capture. Fortunately, once the picture is on the safer ground of the “heist” (or “coup”, as Petit refers to it), the same high wire navigated by James Marsh’s superior doc Man on Wire, only here with added the visuals, natural momentum kicks in.


This is ironic, as one of the drawbacks of Man on Wire was that, while it effectively communicated Petit’s passion and obsession, it didn’t shine much of a light on who the participants were as people. While The Walk also fails to delve into who Petit and co became since (one particularly wonders about Barry Greenhouse, the insurance executive who facilitated their access), the early section attempts to grant Petit a biography, and it flounders completely. 


Partly, it just isn’t very interesting; so he was a street performer (including some excruciatingly unfunny mime bit between Petit and his to-be girlfriend Annie Allix, played by Charlotte Le Bon), and his parents threw him out, and he meets up with Ben Kingsley, as most people do at some point if they’re in movies for long enough. His spark to cross the Twin Towers on a wire is similarly forced, and all the while Gordon-Levitt’s over-cajoling narration has exactly the opposite effect of persuading us this character has a story worth sticking around for.


It’s easy to see why Zemeckis went down the heightened route of presentation and flourish, complete with a very artificially staged Petit “standing” atop the Statute of Liberty to deliver his account. Man on Wire is, after all highly theatrical, for all its documentary status, with re-enactments and a thriller structure, and the lion’s share of that is down to Petit’s persona as the central force (to be fair to the director, he states he began developing this project a decade ago, before Man on Wire came to be, but comparisons, and no doubt influences, are inevitable). But the result is off-puttingly broad, closer to Death Becomes Her’s mugging than keeping the foot on the ground it needs. That is, until Petit arranges his test exercise, traversing Notre Dame Cathedral (the follow-up, Sydney Harbour Bridge, is omitted, probably because three such feats would feel like diminishing returns).


While Zemeckis and co-screenplay writer Christopher Browne, adapting Petit’s To Reach the Clouds, have slightly sexed up the tale (mainly through compressing the time it took to tease the plan out – three trips to New York were necessary, although the apparent detour to go back and see Ben Kingsley’s Papa Rudy for some advice, complete with scale models of the edifices, is bizarre – but also such dramatic devices as giving him a bleeding foot during the walk, and the shaking of the wire right at the end), for the most part it’s unnecessary to doctor the facts. One point they don’t include is the victorious Petit ungallantly opting for a celebratory shag with a passing groupie, probably sensible as it wouldn’t foster sympathy for the protagonist.


Of which, Gordon-Levitt is naturally more winning a presence than the real Petit, able to convert the arrogance into something more personable. As such, Zemeckis could perhaps have pushed a bit more; we are told that Petit isn’t showing his co-conspirators due deference, rather than really seeing it, and this is dealt with through the clumsy comedy of Petit waking them up in the night and thanking them (mid-nailing up his “coffin”, amidst pre-performance anxiety); it’s hard to marry this kind of whacky guy schtick with the smooth, expertly staged laughs of Back to the Future.


Le Bon rather disappears into mix, while Kingsley is Kingsley, commanding and dependable. Of Petit’s French chums acrophobic Jeff (César Domboy), who accompanies him to the rooftop, comes off best. Not so well-conceived is Benedict Samuel’s goofy stoner, so over-the-top it’s like Zemeckis never saw the ‘60s himself (or perhaps it’s because he did). The standouts are Valentine, complete with extraordinary goatee and gleefully white-collar rebel bent, and James Badge Dale’s local fixer Jean-Pierre, returning to the Zemeckis fold post-Flight and sporting a ridiculous perm.


After a run where Gordon-Levitt appeared able to do no wrong, The Walk at least shows up that he’s merely human. His natural charm is buried in there, but the surface trappings are frequently embarrassing or misjudged. In attempting to capture Petit’s enthusiasm and bon homie he goes too big, and his look is unnecessarily artificial. But that suits Zemeckis these days, unfortunately. He appears to approach a project with the technical specs in mind first, even now he’s back in live action (God knows how that Yellow Submarine picture would have turned out). Do we really need to see the steel rope forming between the Towers, through the miracle of Petit’s CGI-imagining, in the near-last shot?


But in terms of the vertiginous feats, the real attraction to the director, he doesn’t fail. I was surprised to learn (I saw this in 2D, and it’s still fairly on-the-ledge; I don’t think I needed extra heady heights) this wasn’t a natural-3D movie, given Zemeckis’ thrall to all innovations technological (often at the expense of content), but no. The extreme craziness of Petit’s feat is only compounded as we breathe a sigh of relief on the completion of his crossing. Only for him to go back out for more. And more. Including all manner of insane poses; looking down, lying down, kneeling down, saluting his audience, taking up ballet poses. Sheer madness (he did eight crossings in all over 45 minutes, and Zemeckis certainly succeeds in telegraphing that he was out there for a good long while).


Unlike Man on Wire, Zemeckis, as a man partial to sentiment (though thankfully not as much as his sometime mentor Spielberg), can’t resist invoking 9/11. So Petit, who is garlanded with the accolade of breathing life into edifices no one was particularly partial to previously, wistfully notes he was granted a pass “forever” to visit the observation decks of the Towers. Man on Wire was a minor hit in 2008 (relatively, for a documentary, one which won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar). It’s now twice that time since 9/11, and the tepid audience reception greeting The Walk suggests maybe people are tired of being reminded of an event that has, entirely for ill, informed the 21st century paradigm to date (unless it’s Back to the Future predicting it, of course; then it will get millions of hits on YouTube). Or perhaps it’s just that The Walk, when it settles in, is an engrossing but flawed picture, and anyone interested in the story has probably already read or heard Petit’s first-hand account.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.