Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Walk

It seems like only yesterday we were watching the little lovable mop-headed Joseph Gordon-Levitt as one of the aliens on “3rd Rock from the Sun” back in the mid-90s or even the cameo I know him best by…1998’s Halloween H20.  But somehow, between the 90s and now, Gordon-Levitt has established himself as a very talented actor and has been in quite a few movies that I’ve come to enjoy. 

From the G.I. Joe films to Inception to the fabulous Looper, I really think this kid’s got more to him than we think.  When he had hosted “Saturday Night Live” a few years back, I’d noticed that Gordon-Levitt had an energy that you didn’t see in too many performers.  He had the stamina and vigor of an all-star athlete, yet he was able to use it to entertain the audience impeccably.

I’d mentioned his role in Looper…well…for those of you who’ve never seen it, he plays the younger version of Bruce Willis’s character (it’s a time travel movie).  If you can get past the obvious colored contact lenses and facial prosthetics, take note of Gordon-Levitt’s mannerisms and demeanor…he’s so outstandingly believable as the younger version of Bruce Willis, it’s scary.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is so likable in whatever role he plays (let’s see if he can keep up that congeniality when he plays Edward Snowden in September), there’s not a movie I’ve seen that he doesn’t make me smile.

So, with The Walk, I knew I had to see it.  Unfortunately, I’d missed the theatrical run of this film and wished I had seen it on the big screen, but seeing it on a good-sized television sure gets the point across and you’ll still find yourself squirming a bit during the climactic scene near the end.  And without further ado, let me give you a bit of a synopsis of the film…

In 1974, high-wire artist Phillippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.

Director Robert Zemeckis—best known for the Back to the Future trilogy of films—helms a very nice look at how Petit journeyed to the USA for his calling of walking across the two towers on a wire.  The story and the way it’s carried out by the actors is well told and seemingly true (when researching after the conclusion of the movie), so the film is strengthened by that acceptability.  But let’s face it…the one aspect of this film that everybody wanted to see was the recreation of the World Trade Center by computer imagery and the very real-looking act of the high-wire walk.  However, I don’t think that this movie made itself…I do credit Zemeckis for keeping it together and structured as he filmed the story on Petit’s drive to do what he’d done.

Now, I have faint recollections of what transpired in real life.  I’d known that someone walked across on a wire and probably dismissed it as soon as I’d heard about it back then.  Heck, I was only five years old, going on six.  But to see how it would’ve been like, to walk on a small steel cable that far up between those monumental buildings…?  Ugh…I’ll get to that later.

From the moment I popped in the DVD, I’d thought I was going to turn the movie off within minutes.  The establishing shot we get is Joseph Gordon-Levitt atop the torch of the Statue of Liberty, breaking the fourth wall and narrating the beginning of the story from there.  We see him in a Justin Bieber-esque wig with blue contacts and speaking with a French accent…I thought I was going to get sick of the whole thing within the first 15 minutes.  But as the story moved along, I became very interested in the story as well as trying to pick out what was real and what was helped with computers.  Even though we don’t see the high-wire extravaganza until the end of the film, we still see Gordon-Levitt accomplish some cool stunts.  With all that going through my mind, I had become aware that his accent and wig was forgotten…his presence on the screen being acceptable and welcomed; he sure knows how to take the audience and keep them charmed.

Besides the shining star that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is within this film, you also have a wonderful supporting cast.  The great Ben Kingsley does a terrific job, as always, playing Petit’s mentor, Papa Rudy; Petit’s love interest, Annie, is played by Charlotte Le Bon (her IMDb page is filled with a few foreign films I’ve never heard of, but she holds her own and works fine alongside Gordon-Levitt); James Badge Dale is almost unrecognizable as one of Petit’s members of his “coup,” with his crazy wig and overgrown stubble…he gives a bit of levity to the group that ultimately triumphs in the plan to get Petit through the (somewhat) tough security of the buildings under construction.
The look of the film is very believable, being set in the 70s, getting the looks and styles right from the actors.  It may look funny to millennials who may decide to watch this, but to people over 40 it may take them back to some fun days.  Still, it’s astounding to think that a handful of foreigners were able to infiltrate the World Trade Center and hide out until nightfall to set up cable rigging from one building to the other. 

So, back to the stunt during the film’s third act…it’s amazing.  I couldn’t help but to wish Gordon-Levitt, as Petit, would stop after performing the stunt across the wire once.  Besides walking from one side to the other, he also does a few things that’ll make you slide to the edge of your seat, giving you a sense of vertigo even if you’re in the comfort of your own home.  From the moment he steps to the edge of the building early on when he arrives at the tower (which you see in the trailer) to the actual stunt, you’ll be mesmerized by the realism and surrealism of the fact that this man actually did this.

Overall, the one thing that this film gets right is the respect it gives to the World Trade Center.  The Walk is definitely an homage to the once-standing buildings in New York and serves as a respectful remembrance to its existence.  I like how it’s mentioned that a lot of New Yorkers weren’t happy with its presence when construction was nearing completion, but had their minds changed after Phillippe Petit established their monumental status when he performed his show atop them.

My final “bit” on The Walk?

I’ve got to admit that I didn’t think much of this film when I first saw the trailer.  I thought it was going to be a boring film that would end with the eye candy of seeing what it’d be like to walk across a wire on top of the World Trade Center.  I was half-right, as we do see what it’s like to walk (amongst other things) across that wire, but we’re also treated to a sweet story of a simple man who had a drive to do something spectacular and wouldn’t stop until he’d achieved it.  It’s inspirational, funny, and the end is definitely vertigo-inducing.  You’ll want to see this.