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The Walk •••1/2

The_Walk_(2015_film)_posterStarring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Guillaume Baillargeon
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne
Adventure/biography/drama, Rated: PG
Running Time: 123 mintues
Release Date: October 9, 2015


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Well it won’t be a walk in the park, but we should review The Walk.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

This movie is less about walking and more about sphincter-tightening acrobatics. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to a young Parisian Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is getting kicked out of his family home because all he wants to do with his life is walk the high-wire. While at the dentist’s office, he sees a picture of the under-construction World Trade Center Towers in NYC. He is immediately enamoured of the idea of walking a tightrope between the two towers.

But first Philippe must practice his craft and raise money to accomplish his dream. He meets Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), an older man who runs a local circus troupe. Papa Rudy sees potential in young Philippe and begins to mentor the young man about knots, techniques, and the psychological aspects of walking on tightropes. Philippe illegally walks between the two towers at Notre Dame and soon begins attracting a following. Meanwhile, he assembles a team of helpers and the financial resources to fulfill his ambition to walk the Twin Towers.

Scott, The Walk was an unexpected pleasure. Joseph Gordon-Levitt really shines in this role. I fell in love with his passion for tightrope walking from the instant I met young Philippe. The story unfolds with Philippe as a youth and we grow with him as he gets more and more proficient at his craft. We’re witness to the extremes he must go to – and the incredible focus he must possess – in order to accomplish his goal.

If there is one thing I can complain about in this film, is that director Robert Zemeckis insisted that Gordon-Levitt narrate the entire story. As if he could not trust himself to tell a story that was delivered on-screen. The age-old adage of writing still is true: “Show, don’t Tell.” And there was an abundance of telling in this movie. As I was watching, I tried to figure out what was missing in the showing that needed so much telling. And I couldn’t discern it. Except that the film would have been about 20 minutes shorter – the narration was an unnecessary distraction.

The Walk gives us an inside peek into a man’s obsessive dream to accomplish a physical feat that appears to have no redeeming value other than it demands courage and perseverance. I use the word “appears” because it could be argued that the audacity shown by Philippe in this movie is no different from the audacity shown by the astronauts in The Martian to study Mars. This movie showcases the pervasive human drive to test the limits of human skill and endurance in accomplishing daring physical feats.

As with any good hero, Philippe undergoes an important transformation during this story. His dream by itself is not enough; he must hone important techniques and acquire self-confidence. Moreover, he must acquire leadership skills and a willingness to learn from the master himself, Papa Rudy. Once successful, Philippe enjoys a newfound maturity and sense of utter accomplishment. And along the way, he remains open to receiving assistance from numerous friends and allies, not to mention a prominent love interest. Overall, The Walk tells a good solid hero story.

I couldn’t agree with you more, Scott. The Walk is a classic hero’s journey and Zemeckis is well-schooled in telling just such stories. There are even (farcical) conspiracy stories about how Zemeckis is fulfilling a prophecy he foretold in Back to the Future 2. But I digress. Philippe’s “coup’ – or clique of accomplishes – is forged when he pulls in the support of Annie (Charlotte Le Bon). She becomes his romantic interest and greatest supporter. Second is Jean-Louis (Clément Sibomy) whom Philippe makes his ‘official’ photographer. Slowly, Philippe gathers together a small entourage of followers who are dedicated to helping him conquer his beast – the World Trade Center Towers.

You are correct in pointing out all the very capable supporting characters in this film. Let’s not forget the villainous forces that oppose young Philippe. There is the New York Police Department, an institution that frowns upon our French hero’s ambitions. At least a half-dozen cops play minor roles as the face of this institution. Another obstacle are a couple of Philippe’s friends who are not up to the task of helping him, or who are barely up to snuff. One of them, for example, has an extreme fear of heights — not exactly the man you want helping you set up the high wire 1200 feet above ground..

One nice touch in this film was the decision to show Annie leaving Philippe after he has succeeded in walking the tightrope between the towers. I applaud the filmmakers for including this scene, as it tells us that women are far more than mere supporters of the dreams of men. Women have their own lives and their own dreams to fulfill, without a man’s help. Well done.

The Walk is a dizzying display of heroic accomplishment and the allies necessary to make dreams come true. Philippe Petit’s story would be unfathomable if it weren’t absolutely true. While I hope this film doesn’t inspire any young people to risk their lives in death defying feats, I am sure The Walk will inspire many young people to go forward to achieve their dreams. I give The Walk 4 out of 5 Reels.

Philippe Petit is everything we look for in a hero. He’s determined, charismatic, and bigger than life. He even has devastating fears that make him all the more human. I give him 4 out of 5 Heroes.

And his supporting cast is both rich and diverse. Philippe combines friends from France as well as new friends from the USA. We’re treated to a love interest, a scribe, and even an ally who faces his own fears and overcomes them with Philippe’s help. The one thing missing was a strong villain – but I suppose the combination of the heights of the Twin Towers and the forces of gravity fill that role. I give the supporting cast 3 out of 5 Cast points.

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The Walk is a fun and pleasant movie about a man with a dream to accomplish a feat that is utterly useless to humanity but is essential for the man’s sense of self-completion. This film is fanciful and endearing in its style of presentation and in its portrayal of loyal, loving characters who support our hero’s dream. The movie earns a respectable 3 Reels out of 5.

As I’ve mentioned, our hero Philippe travels a full hero’s journey replete with friends, a lover, a mentor, and an institutional villain. As befitting a hero, he undergoes both physical and emotional transformations. Does he give anything back to society at the end? Not really, or at least not directly. Perhaps he has inspired thousands of people to follow their dreams, and in the end, that is quite a gift in itself. I can easily award young, audacious Philippe a worthy 4 Heroes out of 5.

I agree with you, Greg, that the supporting characters are a worthy collection of diverse people who make Philippe’s extraordinary feat possible. Even the pathetic cops are enjoyable in their failed attempt to thwart our hero. Three cast points out of 5 seems appropriate indeed.

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