"People ask me, why do you risk death? For me this is life."
Robert Zemeckis has crafted some of the best capers, characters studies and most visually impressive movies of the last thirty years. So what do you get if you put what should be in theory, all of those elements into one true story that also happens to be an Oscar winning documentary ‘Man On Wire’? That’s a tough question to answer, and an oddly specific one.Based on the real story of Philip Petit (Joseph Gordon Levit) who strung a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Centre and walked across them. The film chronicles his journey to, and the accomplishment of his unique, bizarre and dangerous dream.
Zemeckis directed sequences in 2012’s ‘Flight’ that defied belief and used the adequate technology to place the audience in areas and situations that they could never have experienced without the amazing directing and spectacular effects. There are moments of visual beauty that permeate and suspend the film, not just in its climactic sequence, but throughout the story of Petit discovering his passion and dream.
However that final half an hour is simply one of the purest cinematic moments I’ve seen in many years. The dazzling and almost surreal nature of that one moment, when Petit is balanced precariously, thousands of feet in the air is simply staggering. There was a genuine sense of vertigo and a few people even gave an outcry of fear and disbelief in the cinema. But this does beg the question, were they left breathless and frightened by just the visuals, or was there a genuine connection that momentarily made them forget that this was a true story and that we knew its outcome and made them fear for Petit’s safety?
As much as I would like to say it was the latter, my intuition tells me it was the former. The story telling technique is at a slight flaw here because although the film is entertaining, I rarely found myself connecting with Petit as a character in this film. I understood his desire to be remembered for a type of artistic expression and how he finds unknown tranquillity on a high wire. But I’m captivated by his dreams and emotions, and find myself sharing them not often enough.
The documentary that ‘The Walk’ is based on, ‘Man On Wire’ finds a simplicity beauty with its depiction of the story imply because it lets the poetic and enigmatic nature of the situation speak for itself. ‘The Walk’ feels like it is trying immensely hard to make the audience fall in love with Petit as a character but can’t quite make that emotional connection necessary. It feels as if it would be enough just to portray him in a more basic way, allow the audience to admire his actions instead of demanding that we empathise with him when it is not necessary.
It is slightly annoying that I have to say that, because it is so easy to admire moments from ‘The Walk’. There are moments when he conveys so many emotions with simple and minimalistic movements and rarely do these emotions feel heavy handed or overbearing, it’s just that they do not appear frequently enough.
Joseph Gordon Levit has been criticised by some for his accent in this film. It does seem slightly out of place initially compared with both his normal speech patterns and accent, as well as the other French actors around him. Originally my summary would have ended there, but I also went to the trouble of re-watching ‘Man On Wire’ to refresh my memory of the real Petit’s voice. It’s not actually a typical French accent, with some unique pronunciations and syllabus distinctions. What I have to conclude is that Levit is in fact doing a fairly good job of emulating him, though I wouldn’t say he quite embodies him. Not to say that is a major issue, in many ways it works as the film stands as more of a poignant tribute to his actions and the buildings where it took place that are no longer there.
Part heist movie and also a definitive chromatic experience of cinema, ‘The Walk’ may be a bit uneven at times and short on its story, but as a stunning display of visuals it is spectacular.