The Walk Review - By The End You'll Be Secretly Hoping He'll Fall

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the Man On Wire in Robert Zemeckis' disappointing thriller.

Rating: ˜…˜… No need to toe the line - Philippe Petit is an incredible person. Anarchic in a playful way, he's an artist of an unconventional form who strived to attain his own personal goals while also delighting in amazing his public. And so The Walk's biggest crime is that, during its centrepiece sequence that dramatises his high-wire walk between the Twin Towers, I began to hate him. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stalks up and down the wire like a cocky, self-serving child, delighted in himself and oblivious to the concerns or anger of others. Real life Petit no doubt has a share of these characteristics (who doesn't), but seeing this recreation I was actually hoping he would fall just to wipe that smug, vacant expression from his face. Throughout the extended ninety minutes of set-up, Philippe is established as being driven by the thrill of performing and the joy it ignites, but once above Austin J. Tobin Plaza he only comes across as a showboater, selfishly basking in his success. It's an anti-arc, regressing a character and rendering the rest of the film moot. Maybe this shouldn't be too surprising - I'd wager Robert Zemeckis could only empathise with that side of Petit because, when you break it down, this extended finale is really the director showing off himself: "Look at what we can do with CGI/3D/IMAX! Story? Character? Fun? Oh, I did that in another movie. This is about the 'experience'."
Oh, experience. That awful word that gets banded about whenever someone thinks some flashy effects (that, as with Zemeckis' recent mo-cap adventures, aren't quite as flawless as the director thinks they are) are going to carry a film. Now, The Walk does look pretty, with morning Manhattan glistening in intense detail, and there are moments in this finale where the depth of field is nauseating (I saw it in IMAX with Laser, which is undoubtably going to provide the most "immersive" experience), but as is always the case with high-impact tech, without proper direction you grow all too quickly accustomed to the effect and soon shrug it off. The reason there's an absence of sustained wonderment is because no attempt is made to actually build tension during this sequence, the film instead repeating the same "Ooh, it's high" trick over and over. Petit steps on the wire, your stomach churns for a second, but then you're just stuck on a naff rollercoaster, acclimated to the speed and repeating the memorised track over and over, left feeling a bit lethargic as you wait for the whole thing to play out.
It's a thundering disappointment to see the movie's one selling point come tumbling down, although, to be honest, by the time Philippe manages to pull off his "coup" the carrots are already cooked. The opening ninety minutes that precede the showcase are both erratic in plotting and tunnel-visioned in focus. Petit is defined by his relationship with the towers, yet the film exists in this hyperactive world where we jump through time, shooting style and perspective at the snap of a finger, so while the set-up is bright, cheerful and has moments of fun, it's ultimately empty and broad. The same is true of the writing. Pretty much every person is a caricature - Petit's accomplices are all one-note clichés (stoner, acrophobic, best bud, love interest), while Ben Kingsley does the hard-but-actually-soft-on-the-inside mentor schtick he's trotted out countless times before. Gordon-Levitt, meanwhile, may be an inherently likeable screen presence, but for once he's miscast; forced to sit around while his omnipresent future self tells us what he's thinking, he was just never that convincing as the Man On Wire. Oh yeah - that 110 story elephant in the room... Click next for the second half of the review.

Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.