The Walk Review

27 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A loving resurrection of the Twin Towers opens NY Film Fest.

The 53rd New York Film Festival kicked off on Saturday night — 24 hours later than originally scheduled, thanks to the Pope’s trip to town — with the world premiere screening of The Walk, a drama about French daredevil Philippe Petit’s tightrope prance between the World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974. The PG pic, which Sony will release on Sept. 30, was greeted warmly by the audience at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, which saw it in 3D — one particularly thrilling scene received applause, and there was a 30-second ovation when the end-credits began to roll. Philippe stunned New Yorkers in 1974 when he erected a wire between the north and south towers, which were still incomplete, and walked between them without a safety harness. But at a splashy Tavern on the Green after-party, industry insiders were divided about whether it will resonate with Academy members like Man on Wire, the 2008 documentary feature about Petit that took home an Oscar. “It’s a privilege to premiere this movie in New York,” co-writer and director Robert Zemeckis remarked from the stage before the screening, acknowledging the deep connection many New Yorkers still feel to the iconic buildings that have been gone for more than 14 years now.

Since then, the skyline where the Towers once formed the “H” in the poster for Woody Allen’s Manhattan has seldom been more than glimpsed on the big screen. Tom Rothman, the chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group, said “The Walk” was a four-quadrant movie that could appeal to audiences from ages 8 to 80. “I think that’s the very unique thing about ‘The Walk,’” he said. “It’s truly for everyone. You can say it felt wonderful, it felt great, it felt beautiful, but none of those words suffice and that is why this movie is so great because it can show you visually. And finally he acknowledged in the audience Petit himself, who is now 66 but still loves playing to a crowd and acknowledged the applause he received by jumping up onto his chair and waving while balancing on one leg.

The film is directed by Robert Zemeckis, whose credits include the Back To The Future trilogy, Forrest Gump and Cast Away, and the director said the lessons in wire-walking were his actor’s idea. “I would never put that on an actor, to say you must learn how to walk on a tightrope. One interesting thing about The Walk is that it is immensely suspenseful to watch despite the fact there’s never any doubt that Petit, a Werner Herzog-like character, will survive his crazy adventure. The last movie I worked on like that was ‘Life of Pi,’” Rothman said of Ang Lee’s 2012 Oscar contender that grossed more than $600 million worldwide.

He wanted to do it and of course I was very enthusiastic once he said that but it was his idea,” he said. “I remember my walk at the twin towers and the preparation vividly, to the point that when I wrote the book from which the movie was taken, I didn’t have to remember, I relived and I had goosebumps,” he said. Even if one didn’t see Petit at the screening, isn’t old enough to recall the actual events, didn’t see the doc or hasn’t read Petit’s memoir To Reach the Clouds (from which Zemeckis and Christopher Browne derived their screenplay), much is made clear from the start of the film by — somewhat strangely — having Gordon-Levitt’s Petit recount his own story, with the accent and charm of Maurice Chevalier (or Pepe Le Pew), from the top of the Statue of Liberty sometime before Sept. 11, 2001.

Although the opening selection of the NYFF is usually scheduled on a Friday, this year organizers had to postpone it one night to get out of the way of Pope Francis’ visit to New York, explained festival director Kent Jones. And though The Walk never directly references 11 September, the film derives significant poignancy from the very large presence of Petit’s monolithic co-stars. “We should never forget. The fact that Petit’s most famous walk is still tremendously heart-pounding is a testament to the effectiveness of the visual techniques employed by Zemeckis — in 3D, they truly make you feel that you’re on the wire with Petit, 110 stories above Manhattan. This sort of experience isn’t for everyone — a colleague told me he visited the men’s room shortly after the scene depicting Petit’s World Trade Center walk and encountered three people simultaneously vomiting.

To recreate the skyscrapers, Zemeckis, production designer Naomi Shohan and visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie spent months on the digital effects, models and sets that would double for the Towers. With its narrow windows and vertical patterns, the 1963 building at the corner of Woodward and Jefferson Avenue is perhaps the architect’s “best expression of the tall building idea,” according to Detroit Free Press writer John Gallagher, whose latest book is “Yamasaki in Detroit: A Search for Serenity” (Wayne State University Press).

It’s probably the most loving big-screen ode to the Towers (which weren’t so beloved when first built) since the poet-tour guide Timothy Speed Levitch lied between them, gazing upward wondrously, in Bennett Miller’s 1998 documentary, The Cruise. I mean, the documentary did less than $3 million, so people don’t know the story.” Rothman and everyone associated with The Walk obviously would love for it to resonate with critics, moviegoers and awards voters in the same way that Life of Pi did — but that’s a tall order for any film. Mostly, I suspect, they want it to make money, since it’s something of a gamble to make a non-franchise film with a budget this big in this day and age. When it comes time for the Academy to weigh in on the film, I expect it will be a top contender for visual effects; a possible contender for sound editing and sound mixing; and an on-the-bubble prospect for picture, director, actor, adapted screenplay and original score (Alan Silvestri has been nominated for two other Zemeckis films).

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