Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon
Release Date: 9th October 2015 (UK)
The true story of Philipe Petit’s daring high-wire walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre was immortalised on film in the 2008 Oscar winning documentary Man On Wire. It was only a matter of time before the big screen presented a fictional dramatisation of a story which lends itself perfectly to the cinematic flare of 3D technology.
Stepping into the director’s chair is Robert Zemeckis; a surprising choice to those who know him for character dramas Forrest Gump and Cast Away, but not such a wild choice considering The Polar Express and Back to the Future. Zemeckis brings an expertise in delivering traditional stories to broad audiences, so The Walk will perhaps be considered niche by his usual block-busting standards. It’s a story that didn’t just deserve careful execution, but required it, and though it did falter in places, they did extraordinarily well to build an entire movie around one event to which the outcome was already known.
The narrative structure has been pre-ordained by many preceding films of its kind, and this did little to subvert conventions. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the young daredevil pushing himself to achieve things others claim are impossible, and the film uses the preparation to his walk as a good opportunity to establish character and context. However, the decision to use a post-event Philippe narrating the story from the top of the statue of liberty is a weird choice. Not bad, just weird.
His arrival in America feels a tad rushed, and more value could have been added by extending out his backstory a little and utilising Ben Kingsley’s mentor. Though this is not to detract from the wonderful performances of Gordon-Levitt’s supporting cast, but Charlotte Le Bon does little to deserve her starring credit as the concerned love interest.
In contrast to the rushed set up, the actual walk has been given more screen time than it perhaps deserves. As someone who is not aware of the true story’s intricate details, it’s hard to watch without feeling they’re just milking it as much as possible. If it was dramatised, then more creative licence could have been applied – perhaps a couple more near-misses and a bit more focus on the life or death situation as opposed to Petite seemingly effortlessly crossing the wire to evade capture.
Call us cynically, but the ending of this story was inevitably underwhelming, with death being the only genuinely satisfying ending, but perhaps this would have been too much creative licence. With this in mind, The Walk was not a bad retelling of a true story, with a genuine attempt to play out a compelling character drama akin to Forrest Gump but to an exciting death-defying backdrop. If ever Zemeckis had the opportunity to do everything at once, then The Walk was it, and it wasn’t half bad.