Spectacular views but stilted tone to The Walk

MoviesBy Esther McCarthy
Spectacular views but stilted tone to The Walk

IF YOU’VE seen the wonderful documentary Man on Wire, you’ll know something of the zany exploits of high wire adventurer Philippe Petit.

The eccentric Frenchman had a gift for traipsing across the sky and most famously captured the world’s imagination when he walked between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974.

Now top director Robert Zemeckis faces the challenge of breathing new life into a story where many already know the outcome.

It’s not always smooth storytelling and the film is often just as odd and eccentric as its subject matter.

Fortunately, the movie has two great elements which bring it to life – it’s visually stunning, placing you right up on the high wire with Petit as he embarks on his daring adventures.

In fact if, like me, you’re scared of heights, you’ll be clinging a little tighter to those handrails as you leave the cinema.

Zameckis was also savvy in his casting choices here. You need a confident young actor to play the offbeat, swaggering Petit while keeping him likeable.

Here, Gordon-Levitt does a good job encapsulating the flamboyant Frenchman although his accent occasionally veers close to ‘Allo Allo’ territory.

Gordon-Levitt’s casting is a good thing, because The Walk takes its sweet time to get going and during the time we’re not in the air, it can feel a tad flat.

We’re told of Petit’s high-wire obsession from an early age and his temperamental friendship with Papa Rudy (Kingsley), a circus performer with the know-how that Petit needs, even if he is dismissive of his circus background.

There’s a forgettable sequence where he forms a romance with his first serious girlfriend Annie (Le Bon) and it is only when she agrees to be his ‘accomplice’ in the daring Twin Towers walk that the film starts to take off.

Tonally the film struggles in the first half. Zameckis’s determination to capture Petit’s spirit is admirable, but the movie struggles to find its groove as a result.

It’s in the second hour, as a cinematic spectacle, that The Walk comes to life. We’ve seen the black and white photos of Petit at the Towers but the filmmaker’s trademark visual flair places you right up on that high wire.

It’s not the most comprehensive biopic you’ll see this year but visually it’s an exhilarating experience.

The Walk (PG) 3/5 STARS