Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nerdtastic Review: The Walk

I am terrified of heights. Readily I will admit that. There are not many common phobias that I find myself afflicted with, aside from a healthy fear of spiders and public speaking, but heights...oh I don't do well with heights. So when I sat down to watch a movie in IMAX 3D about a man who walked across a wire between two of the tallest buildings ever constructed by man; I knew it was not about to be the most enjoyable two hours I have ever had. Immediately I found myself asking the same question that every other character in the film presented at some moment, "Why?" Why would you do something so foolish, so ill advised? Why erect a cable between these monstrosities simply to walk across it? Why defy death in such a way? Oh, but do not utter that word to the great Philippe Petit. That word, death. He will not speak it, he will not think it, he will not acknowledge its existence. Instead he answers those questions with the antithesis of the very idea...life.

Philippe Petit is mad. Philippe Petit is insane. Philippe Petit is crazy. Philippe Petit knows this and embraces it. We meet the smiling Philippe standing atop the Statue of Liberty. From here he narrates the tale of how he fell in love with two beautiful buildings erected in New York City in the 1970's, and how he became transfixed with the notion that he could walk a tight rope between them. Living across the globe, in beautiful Paris, Philippe was nothing more than a street performer who aspired to do something memorable, something magnificent with his life. Armed with a penchant for the theatrical, and the illegal, he learned of the "Twin Towers" being constructed in New York City and immediately knew that he has found his stage. 

Quickly a team of equally insane counterparts including his girlfriend Annie, his mentor Papa Rudy, and close friends Jean-Pierre and Jean-Louis, is assembled by Philippe and le coup begins. They travel to New York City to begin the highly illegal process of observing the towers and designing a plan to construct a wire between the southernmost corner of the North Tower and the northernmost corner of the South Tower...which Philippe will then walk across with nothing but a pole to help keep his balance. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a true story, all of this actually happened. This man, who for all intents and purposes seems to be the most fictional character ever created, is in fact, real. When you stop for a moment and consider that everything in this film (most likely embellished for dramatic effect at parts) actually happened, you can't help but realize that Philippe certainly succeeded in his goal of making something beautiful, something memorable, something that will stick with people forever.

Sadly there are some shortcomings in The Walk which hinder it from being as beautiful as the actual story it tells. The pacing can feel a bit daunting at times, considering this is a two hour film about an event that lasts only minutes. Eventually I was simply ready for The Walk to begin. Visually this film is massive, in glorious IMAX 3D, but unfortunately the special effects are seriously lacking in certain scenes. It's far too obvious that the wire does not actually exist, that the daunting abyss below our protagonist is simply a green screen in a studio; and at times these moments pull you away from what is actually happening, until Joseph Gordon-Levitt deftly pulls you back in.

Now I haven't seen any actual interviews with Philippe Petit, but his persona is so boisterously brought to life by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, that it is hard to not imagine this being an accurate portrayal of the man. At times flamboyant and bouncy, and at others tormented by his obsession, Petit faces peaks and valleys far greater than the over 400 meters from which he walked. The rest of the cast complements Gordon-Levitt nicely, taking a back seat and letting him be the driving force for each and every scene. The towers themselves are brought to life with some truly spectacular shots (although sometimes hindered by the special effects) and the enormity of the situation is never understated.

This is an absolutely incredible story, and whether or not you see this movie, you should take some time to read about the great Philippe Petit. A man who wanted to leave his mark on this world. Who wanted to do something that everyone, including himself, believed to be impossible. Driven by insanity that some would call passion, Petit accomplished a feat that too few of us will ever achieve. He realized his dream, he chased it relentlessly, and he succeeded. From among the clouds, standing on a few inches of metal wire, between two of the tallest buildings in the world, Philippe Petit lived.

My Rating: B

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