Sunday, September 27, 2015

THE WALK (2015) The Opening Night Film of the New York Film Festival 2015

AT the press conference following the NYFF press screening of THE WALK writer director Robert Zemeckis said that he bought the rights to Philippe Petit over ten years ago and has been working on getting the story on film ever since. He said that his goal was to get the actual walk between the Twin Towers on motion picture film since there is no film footage of the walk. While Zemeckis has made a glorious set piece of the walk, the fact that the story has been told so many times before on film and in print makes most of the film absolutely redundant.

Framed as Petit's version of the story, he's telling it from atop the Statue of Liberty's torch with the towers behind him, we are treated to a cliche filled Cliff Notes version of his life. This blends into the story of putting the walk together in a style that is best described as faux comedic heist but with none of the tension. It all climaxes in a wonderful set piece as the wire is strung and Petit begins to walk.

I don't care what the director and his cast say about how he nailed vocally, the instant that Joseph Gordon Levitt's French accent is heard the people around me burst into laughter since it sounds so much like John Cleese's French Taunter from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For most of us the film was off the rails at that moment and only got it back on on top of the towers.

The problem with majority of the film is it's played too jokey. Or maybe not enough. Everything is very silly as the Petit character works very hard to be our buddy. That's all well and good but with him front and center everyone else is reduced to cartoons.The girlfriend stands out because she's the only girl, the photographer is the guy who has a camera,  Jeff is afraid of heights and retreats into math, the New Yorkers are a guy with hair, two stoned guys and a moustache guy. Who they are beyond that I'm clueless. Only Ben Kingsley's father figure who speaks only in wise sayings like Yoda makes an impression but that's only because of Kingsley's force of personality,

Worse the film has zero tension- why? Because Petit is telling the story- we know he did it from the start so everything is a foregone conclusion. Had Zemeckis been smart he would have told it sans narration and flashback we might have had a tense ride despite knowing it was all okay. It would have worked because he can, occasionally, be a real filmmaker and not a cliche meister . Instead the film is structured so as to give everything away at the start and does so in ways that hit every Hollywood cliche you can think of. As Hubert Vigilla said after the film- for a film that talks a frequently about anarchist art it's entirely establishment.

And do I need to point things out all of the little things that are mistakes in logic and in actual New York locations? I mean after a victory celebration Chinese dinner the cast leaves the restaurant and stops to admire the Towers- the trouble is the restaurant is at a distinctive  subway stop so when they get to the bottom of the stairs to admire the Towers, they are not looking at them, but instead toward the East side of Manhattan away from the buildings (toward the Brooklyn Bridge actually). Or how about Petit and his accomplice duck under a tarp over a "box" only to find the tented crate is actually an elevator shaft. As the men sit on a beam over the shaft you suddenly realize that there is nothing holding the tarp over the men's head. We'll not go into why a tarp would be over on open 110 foot shaft.(Not sure what to make of Zemeckis saying after the film that no film footage of the walk exists but he has one of his characters with a movie camera)

It isn't until the walk that the film hits it's stride. Once Petit steps on the wire the problems fall away and the film becomes, briefly, glorious. Say what you will about the film, this set piece is great. Its pure movie magic, even if it's clear it's largely screen screens and computer animation.  This was worth the slog, especially on the large screen IMAX and 3D.

About the 3D...

If you're going to see this film in a theater see it in 3D. Normally I am reluctant to say that but this time out  pay the cash.  Why? Because the film was designed to be seen that way.  All of the compositions look better with the stereo-optic effect. I was noodling around with one eye and my glasses off during the screening and it was very obvious the film looks better in 3D than 2D. The film is also going to suffer from being seen small since the film only come to life when you get a sense of the vast spaces around the wirewalker. I'm not going to lie and say the 3D effects are stunning, they aren't for most of the film (Zemeckis rarely manages spectacular 3D work) , but in the walk they add much.

I know it may sound like I hate the film, I don't. Its an enjoyable little piece of fluff that is probably going to be forgotten in a couple of weeks. It didn't kill me to see it, and I loved the bits that really worked. If you have an interest- its worth a shot.

The New York Film Festival screening are now over, however the film opens Wednesday September 30.

And one last thing- I am deeply bothered by the very end of the film. The film ends with a simple shot of the towers while some very manipulative music plays. I'm not going to lie the way it's done touches memories of 911. That's all well and good, except the emotion is bullshit. Its a moment of pure manipulation where Zemeckis zings the audience in order to provoke a reaction. What bothers me is the feelings aren't earned. He didn't bring us to this place, life did. When it was over I wanted to punch the director in the face. Don't get me wrong, its a nice moment, its well done (it maybe the best thing in the film) but it doesn't belong here. He didn't earn the right to put it there- worse it has no place in it. The film is about Petit not the Towers and to infer anything else is wrong.

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