A Tough Act to Follow

Straight talk: this is a great movie. While we normally extrapolate a major idea or theme for a review, I just have to do this one different. That’s not because this film is vapid or has no overarching themes or because it just can’t be done…it’s because this film is representative of something bigger. Good, old-fashioned movie magic.

Full disclosure: I was on board with this movie from the first trailer and had no doubts when I saw that this was a Zemeckis picture. He’s a director that has consistently pushed the envelope on visual effects (without sacrificing story) and always finds unique and exciting ways to tell a story. With a story as seemingly simple as “a French guy walked a high wire between the Twin Towers,” it seemed like a perfect fit for the director.

And it was. From start to finish, this film is engrossing, entertaining, and full of heart. The overall structure of the film is as follows…Phillippe Petit is standing on the torch of the Statue of Liberty with his beloved Twin Towers is the background. He recounts his tale, successes and failures included, to us and we, in turn, see these events through flashbacks. While this image does, admittedly look fake…it almost augments the effect. It boasts of fantasy and triumph and welcomes us into the heightened sense of reality the forthcoming journey will ultimately embody.

This narrative structure is perfect for us, as we see the world through Phillippe’s eyes. Through a masterful use of color, focus, and direction, we are given a magical storybook-esque movie. As the film progresses as Phillippe’s plan takes shape and plays out, the tone shifts from fable to caper, and while those two may seem like two opposite ends of the spectrum, they work extremely well together and plot unfolds beautifully.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is the standout of the bunch. He learned French for the film and was taught how to walk a high wire from the real Phillippe Petit himself. It’s true that anyone who has seen JGL in other films know the accent not authentic, it does not sound fake…a testament to the dedication the actor put into preparing for the role.

Spoiler alert: Phillippe doesn’t die…he completes the walk, which almost everyone knows because his story made world news and has been adapted into several stories since. This advanced knowledge does not ruin the film, as Zemeckis does not attempt to create a climax of peril, but instead beauty and integrity. The walk is not about danger and thrill seeking…it’s about art and rebellion.

Making a film about the Twin Towers, too, is dangerous game because it’s a sensitive topic for many Americans. What is over fourteen years old still feels very fresh for many people, so this film did have to walk a fine line in its own right. And I am ever thankful for the way it broaches this topic…and that is, essentially, not at all. Unlike other films that will shoehorn in tragedy to elicit a response, The Walk treats the viewers and the Towers with respect, creating a love tribute, rather than a saddening reminder.

This is why the film works so well. It knows what you know and therefore elicits different response from you. It plays with your expectations and subverts your fears. It elicits genuine emotions and creates a true sense of drama for reasons other than the obvious…and this film, like the high wire walk itself, is therefore deserving of the highest respect imaginable. It’s beautiful, bold, and artistic. It’s movie magic.

Alex Russo loves to talk about movies. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.

Alex Russo

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