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The Walk

It's no 'Man on Wire', but see it for the 3D.
By Tom Glasson
October 23, 2015
By Tom Glasson
October 23, 2015

There’s something very telling about what happens when you type ‘Point Break’ into Google. The first result is the Wiki for Kathryn Bigelow’s iconic action crime thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, whereas the second one is ‘Point Break (2015 Film)’. The order alone says much about its place in the filmic world order, but the name is the real giveaway: Point Break...2015 Film. Yes it’s still technically Point Break, but of the Degrassi: The Next Generation variety — related, yet unworthy of the original title.

This remake, starring nobody, is slated for release on December 25 and is hence the most unwanted Christmas present since that clay ashtray your nephew Declan made. It’s one thing to re-do a film that didn’t get it right the first time — or even several times round (*cough* The HULK) — but when you stray so heavily into ‘unnecessary remake’, you come perilously close to not just making a bad movie, but somehow tarnishing the original too.

Consider, then, 2008’s Man on Wire. This outstanding documentary by James Marsh won all manner of accolades for its gripping, diligent and wildly entertaining retelling of Philippe Petit’s astounding high-wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Centre in 1974. Combining interviews, real-life footage and the occasional re-enactment, it captures every bit of the energy, ebullience and foolishness that defines both Petit and his iconic feat. It is, in short, an outstanding film and a definitive account, making it almost inevitable then that Hollywood should promptly designate it prime material for a retelling.

So it is that we have The Walk, perhaps tellingly presented by Google as 'The Walk (2015 Film)’ despite there being no predecessor of the same name. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the bulk of the movie is presented as a something of a comedic, carefree caper with almost clowning levels of performance and dialogue. In the lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is at once excellent and terrible. His spoken French and Fred Astaire-esque lightness sparkle, but his to-camera narration and ‘English with zee accent’ scenes are cringeworthy, bordering on parody.

With the jazzy soundtrack, nifty editing and whacky cast of accomplices, the majority of the film seems almost desperate to let you know it’s having fun, oftentimes more than you, and it’s not until we first arrive at the Towers that the seriousness sinks in. Thankfully, too, that's when The Walk undergoes a swift and marked transformation, and where its use of 3D finds a welcome home.

3D cinema has, to date, been almost exclusively an unnecessary gimmick and unwelcome expense, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its place. When employed correctly it can be a powerful storytelling device, drawing the viewer deeper into a moment and sharing the experience with you rather than just showing it. As Petit finally arrives in New York and beholds the Towers for the first time, the sensation is deeply unsettling — a sort of vertigo from the ground up — and you absolutely participate in his sudden fear and uncertainty. The sensation then compounds exponentially as he travels to the top and peers down over the edge, at which point you’ll be hard pressed not to tightly grip the arms of your chair.

As such, it is ‘the walk’ within The Walk where the film is at its best, and the exhilaration of experiencing the moment from Petit’s perspective almost exonerates all that precedes it.

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