Thursday, October 15, 2015

Robert Zemeckis' THE WALK 3D

The Walk is a movie that is at odds with itself. I don't mean in any conscious way, at least that the director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis would fess up to. It's a film that features spectacular direction, the kind that makes me like to go to Zemeckis movies - hell, even in 3D, which is a rarity for me (maybe once a year I go, and this was the one), but for this director he makes it worthwhile for the scope and how he moves the camera in high-flying spaces, kind of his thing - and has a lead character who is charismatic as well as arrogant and presumptuous, but with Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a very human stubborn 'artiste' which makes it watchable and fun. But the writing is where it falters. Oh, my dear readers, it so so falters.

I'll break this up into the good/really good, and the not-good. This is an inherently captivating story, and fitting for a cinematic treatment - keep in mind this is the medium that has its roots in figures who did feats of daring-do (think Harold Lloyd going up the building in Safety Last, or any given Buster Keaton flick) - as it revels in spectacle. This is about a man who loves to walk on a wire, and to take it into an artistic plane; it's not simply about defying physical odds (though I'm sure that's there, it has to be for a stuntman, which is what he is technically speaking), but about performance. He is basically an outcast clown, as he has the opportunity in this story to join a circus with a solid trainer (Ben Kingsley is the French/Czech mentor) and instead chooses his own path, and somehow the World Trade buildings catch his attention: so high off the ground, at a place where one can cross if they so do try.

It's through this mission, this 'coup' (it sounds like that anyway how Philippe says it) that this Frenchman with this rugged determination decides to put a wire up between the twin towers just before the buildings are completely finished and open to the public. It's at heart a heist film, but the twist is that it's a crime all for the 'art' of the dare of performing. It still has that format though, and it's great fun seeing how Philippe and his photographer friend (and would-be love interest, slightly underwritten but a good friend character) come to New York with him to find "accomplices" - his word, not mine. And when it comes time to pull off this 'heist' of space and time, which is the only way I can describe it, it's nothing less than thrilling cinema.
This story and this character, sometimes assholish, sometimes utterly whimsical and very, very French, is hard to resist if one is looking for a spectacle that prizes the simple but inherently thrilling sight of a man walking on a wire. It's also about in an absorbing, creative way the process to how Philippe learns how to trust the wire he walks on, learn when it works or doesn't, and how to concentrate like some kind of Zen master. It's nothing short of fascinating and leads up to a performance from Levitt as this man that's as funny as it is awe-inspiring (watch as he keeps walking, and walking, and going back again when he could stop, perhaps just to see if he can really do it). And the supporting cast is game, and Alan Silvestri's score does a good (if not all great) job of adding heft and dimension to the scenes that need them, including some Beethoven's 5th in the climactic walk itself. So much is excellent with the film that... it's a shame that there's a fatal flaw, so fatal that it almost makes me hesitant to recommend the film at all: narration. Useless goddamn narration.

The screenwriters walking the tightrope of my patience... and they FALL OFF!
I can't tell you how much it takes me out of a scene to see this character, in the framing device of talking to the audience as he stands at the top of the Statue of Liberty and talks to the audience... and talks and talks and talks, telegraphing so many of his emotions and thoughts in the moment and/or after the fact, even when (especially when) Zemeckis is already showing these actions or close to it on screen. It's so strange to see Zemeckis fail at this so miserably when he used narration in a creative way in Forrest Gump; I wondered watching The Walk why it worked there and it doesn't here, and I think it's about what it tells about the character as well as the story - Forrest is giving us this long, sprawling, life-long journey and it's a unique, even satirical perspective.

Philippe is not like that - many of his thought and such are at best unnecessary and at worse make him a bore of an 'artist', to a pretentious degree, and at absolute best maybe 5% of the narration gives us some character we wouldn't see or get otherwise from the actor. We should be able to see, and often DO anyway, on the face of Levitt what he's thinking or feeling as he does this or that, and can see well enough what other characters are doing like Kingsley's guy. Narration is difficult to do in any movie, but here it's so terrible as to make one pine for the theatrical cut of Blade Runner, or Luke Wilson in Middle Men.

Perhaps if one can block out that side of the movie, The Walk will be a blast for most open audiences. Again, the basic story of what this man did in 1974, what lead up to it and the little details leading up to the "steal", makes for a core plot that is fantastic and carries that true-but-escapist flair we like to go to big movies like this for. On the one hand the movie has a different take on how to achieve fame than we get to see in, say, the average sports movie, and yet it's also not a movie that uses heights to address peril in the way we usually see, and it's refreshing, not to mention how committed Levitt is to the role (as are the supporting actors, albeit a couple of 'types' really do stick out). On the other hand, when you have your main character telling you things that not only don't need to be said but are already SHOWN, it mucks with the cinematic form. It's A-grade filmmaking with a C minus grade script.

1 comment:

  1. This is actually a pretty bad grade from Professor Gattanella but an interesting review. Thank you.