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Vertigo-Inducing The Walk Nonetheless One of the Most Beautiful Films Ever

  • Susan Ellingburg Contributing Writer
  • 2015 8 Oct
Vertigo-Inducing <i>The Walk</i> Nonetheless One of the Most Beautiful Films Ever

DVD Release Date: January 5, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: October 9, 2015
Rating: PG (thematic elements involving perilous situations, and for some nudity, language, brief drug references and smoking)
Genre: Adventure, Biography, Drama, Thriller
Run Time: 123 minutes
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley

"To walk on the wire is life." Frenchman Philippe Pettit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon) was just a boy when he fell in love with the high-wire act at a local circus. But Philippe didn't want to be a circus act. He had more... exotic stages in mind. So when a chance encounter with a magazine touting the new construction marvel-in-progress that was New York's World Trade Center, Philippe knew that this was it. From that moment, his goal was a simple one: to string a wire between the Twin Towers and walk across it. The fact that his goal was probably impossible, highly illegal, and absolutely crazy? Minor details.

Part "caper" film, part adventure, and—incredibly—all true, The Walk follows Philippe on his quest. Of course, he couldn't do it alone and, besides, no proper French story is complete without l’amour. One day Philippe spies Annie (Charlotte Le Bon, The Hundred-Foot Journey) across a crowded Paris street and woos her with a boyish, quirky charm that will set female audience members sighing. Annie signs on to his outrageous plan, of course.

Philippe is not completely crazy. He trains like the athlete he is, wrangles lessons and advice from crotchety high-wire expert Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley, Shutter Island), and does a significant amount of "spy work" prior to the big day. In addition, so many of the pieces seem to fall into place it feels as if the Almighty was paving the way for this French adventure in the Big Apple, as when Philippe and Annie find other accomplices by accident. Some will betray the group and some—especially plucky-but-terrified-of-heights Jeff (César Domboy)—will rise to the challenge.

I expected this movie to be full of impressive views from high places and queasy-making moments packed with tension, and I was right. I confess that I do not like heights and there were a couple of moments I had to watch with my eyes closed. What I did not expect was an enchanting story about a charming young man willing to do whatever it took to make his dream come true.

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Much of that charm springs from Gordon-Levitt's luminous portrayal of Philippe. His mobile face and piercing eyes are always alive with possibilities and he radiates the zeal of a true believer. Philippe also periodically pops in as narrator to move the story along, sharing his thoughts from a perch that's too delightful to give away here. His enthusiastic explanations are so compelling that you can't help but see things his way, even if part of your brain is thinking "that boy is just not right."

The Walk is one of the most visually beautiful films I've seen. Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) frames every shot like a painting worthy of the Louvre. We see things from every conceivable point of view, from panoramic vistas to the closest of close ups. Some scenes, as with Kansas in The Wizard of Oz, are in black and white. All of it is stunning. Described as "a love letter to Paris and New York City in the 1970s," the film does both cities, and their people, proud.

Some of the dialogue is in French (with subtitles) and there are a few profanities (in English) to deal with, but don't let that stop you from experiencing this ultimately uplifting story. If you're the kind of person who likes to read the last chapter of a book first you can Google Philippe's story—it is true, remember—but I can tell you now that knowing the outcome doesn't make watching the actual walk any less stressful.

As we all know, the Towers are no longer there. At the end of the movie there's a graceful reference to that sad fact and it's all the more touching for its subtlety. Like everything else in this film, it is beautifully done.

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CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Wine and champagne are consumed on several occasions (the main characters are French, after all); a man offers to buy another man a beer; some smoking, one character is clearly high.
  • Language/Profanity: I thought we were going to get through this PG movie without any major swearing but then the story moved to New York. So: bast***, he**, as*, "for Christ’s sake," SOB (and the full phrase), God da**, bullsh**, sh**. To be fair, a few of those words were heard in France.
  • Sex/Nudity: A couple of kisses (more romantic than hot and heavy); Philippe and Annie are shown sleeping in the same bed; Philippe is briefly shown nude but from a distance and nothing much is in focus, even in 3D
  • Violent/Frightening/Intense: The entire walk section is heart-stopping, but fascinating. A man steps on a nail that goes through his foot, some blood shown.

Publication date: October 8, 2015

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