The Walk is a playful, visually stunning film, but every moment of joyful levity, every jaw-dropping stunt, is ruined by
Ever since I was a little boy, I have always been looking for places to put my wire. When I was 16, I- That. It’s ruined by that.
The film tells the true story of French wirewalker Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who, in 1974, christened the not-yet-complete World Trade Center towers by stringing his high wire between them and performing for the city far below. The movie goes through Petit’s origins as a Parisian street performer and his gathering of accomplices for what he referred to as his “coup.”
The walk is a perfect example of all the ways to not use narration. Throughout the movie, it cuts back to a shot of Petit standing on the Statue of Liberty breaking everything down as it happens in annoying, useless detail. In a two hour movie with almost constant narration, he never once says anything useful or anything a viewer couldn’t have figured out with the sound turned off. It’s a major, grating distraction.
That’s a shame, because The Walk is an otherwise deftly made movie that succeeds where many others fail. This movie relies on viewers rooting for its protagonist, and that can be difficult when the protagonist’s goal is so pointless. Many movies — looking at you, Everest — would try to focus on the dramatic cultural benefit of this wire act, but Petit is a silly person with a silly goal, and The Walk plays it all off as silly. This isn’t a man who saves the world with his inspirational story of performing a stupid stunt for its own sake, this is a man who walks a tightrope and juggles for your amusement. You never have to question why it matters because the movie tells you it doesn’t. The charming scenes of his street performances
I would draw a circle in the pavement. The circle was my sacred space. I would not let anyone inside my- SHUT UP
The thing about narration is it is the oldest form of storytelling, coming from literally the beginning of human history, and in movies, the newest and most intricate form of storytelling, it’s often clumsy and awkward. With all the tools at a moviemaker’s disposal, there is almost always a better, more satisfying way to convey a given piece of information. That isn’t to say narration doesn’t have its place — Sin City, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fight Club are fantastic recent examples of how it can be used to add depth to a main character, reinforce a movie’s themes and contribute to the general atmosphere without getting redundant or taking away from the movie itself. In The Walk, the narration is almost universally redundant and is always taking away from the movie. Where these films were designed and shot to be narrated, The Walk seems like somebody who knows nothing about movies sloppily added that entire apparatus in post-production. Instead of being insightful, it is almost always disruptive.
After establishing Petit’s character in a long but fun first act, The Walk turns into a heist movie about planning and recruiting for the coup. The short second act retains the feel of the first, and is dominated by a fun montage of Petit’s disguises while casing the towers.
I disguised myself as everything. A construction worker. A business m- I CAN SEE THAT! IT’S HAPPENING ON THE SCREEN! YOU DON’T NEED TO TELL ME THAT!
This is the worst possible way to use narration — as a replacement for something that should be communicated clearly through the natural course of the movie. Instead of telling viewers what happened, show them. Instead of telling viewers how a character is feeling, have competent actors deliver these emotions within the shot. The Walk does show viewers what happened and Gordon-Levitt is dynamite whenever he isn’t talking — narration isn’t just the worst way to convey these things generally, it’s the worst way to convey these things within the bounds of this movie.
This gives way to The Walk’s payoff: a death-defying, 30-minute third act that
The clouds rolled over my wire, and for a moment in time I was completely- SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP! I SEE THAT! I FUCKING SEE THAT! THERE ARE CLOUDS ROLLING OVER THE WIRE RIGHT NOW! IT’S IN THE SHOT! IT’S LITERALLY THE ONLY THING ON THE SCREEN RIGHT NOW! GOD, it’s just, do you have any idea how impactful this scene would be if it weren’t constantly interrupted by the world’s shittyest French accent? This isn’t just ruining a movie, this is ruining a fun and tense and otherwise heartfelt movie. A cut of this without narration would be one of the year’s best films, but as cut it simply smothers itself to death.
Like Everest, The Walk was released exclusively in IMAX and 3D ahead of a wide release this weekend. This method of release for movies, which are notoriously front-loaded, is going to continue to be an interesting study. Everest brought in $7.5 million from 545 domestic theaters in its 3D exclusive release, but only $13 million the next weekend after expanding to 2,461. The Walk made only $1.5 million in 448 theaters last weekend, and expands to more than 2,500 this
As I lay there, with only the sky above me, I felt- fhmggrrRRRRR!!!
The Walk will expand nationwide Oct. 9.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. I’ve figured out the problem with Jeff Daniels — he isn’t Bill Murray. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to email@example.com.