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“The Walk” debuts at NYFF and tries to tightrope walk through the Oscar season

The Walk Robert Zemekis 600x400
Over the weekend, audiences at the New York Film Festival were the very first to get a look at the new Robert Zemeckis movie The Walk, as NYFF officially got underway. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film is hoping to take some solid word of mouth and make itself into an Oscar player. As one of the few Academy Award hopefuls that hadn’t yet screened for the public, a fair amount was riding on this one. We certainly don’t have a new frontrunner on our hands or anything of the sort, but it’s not something to cross off your list either. The Walk is somewhere in between, which makes my job a bit harder, but that’s nothing really new for me…

For those unaware what the film is about, it’s a narrative feature version of the documentary Man on Wire. The doc, as well as this movie, centers on high-wire artist Philippe Petit, who in 1974 recruited a team to help him achieve his dream of walking a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers. As mentioned above, Zemeckis directs (as well as co-writes with Christopher Browne), Gordon-Levitt plays Petit, and the supporting cast includes James Badge Dale, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley, Ben Schwartz, and Steve Valentine, among others. The flick features music by Alan Silvestri and cinematography from Dariusz Wolski, the latter of whom is contributing to what most folks are praising about The Walk…which is the visuals.

While Gordon-Levitt has received some decent notices for his performance, what the first pundits are shouting from the rooftops about (no pun intended) is the re-creation of Petit’s walk. Zemeckis, Wolski, and the visual effects team have flawlessly brought the Twin Towers to life, while the walk itself is rendered in 3D IMAX in such a way that you’ll never doubt the achievement’s craziness. Audience members with vertigo might find themselves a little uncomfortable…that’s how well done it is. Even those somewhat jaded at NYFF seemed rather impressed by the sequence, regardless of how they felt about the rest of the film. The reviews overall were decent, but that moment in the movie is getting raves.

The Walk Joseph Gordon-Levitt

In a way, both the best and worst thing for The Walk is how beloved Man on Wire is. It’s a previous Best Documentary Feature winner at the Oscars, and considered one of the better ones of late as well. What I mean by this is that the film basically has extra publicity and interest built in, but at the same time, will some be dismissive of a fictionalized take after the modern classic that is the non fiction one. If audiences and voters in the Academy accept this take on the material, it could be a boon to its Oscar hopes.

Awards wise, The Walk might not be too likely of a contender in many places, but I’m sure we’ll get a nice big campaign if it’s a financial hit. Categories like Best Picture, Best Director (for Zemeckis), Best Actor (for Gordon-Levitt), Best Supporting Actor (for Kingsley), Best Supporting Actress (for Le Bon), and Best Adapted Screenplay (for Browne and Zemeckis) might be hard to make happen, but the technical fields like Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Visual Effects could be better bets. In fact, Visual Effects seems like the one for the film to hang its hat on, though we’ll see what ultimately happens.

It will be a short turnaround for The Walk, which is going from its NYFF Gala debut as the Opening Night film to a wide release this coming weekend, so folks anticipating this one won’t have to wait very long at all. Fans of Gordon-Levitt, Zemeckis, or even the Man on Wire doc, not to mention admirers of Petit, should find something to enjoy here, even if it’s not the Academy Awards game changer some were hoping for it to be. It might just be a solid flick, something with wide appeal and a standout visual sequence to really promote the IMAX format. If that’s all it is, that’s still something to praise and support. We’ll see what Oscar voters wind up thinking about it, so stay tuned there, but at least we know that NYFF is off to another solid start, so there’s that…

The Walk poster
Be sure to check out The Walk, in theaters everywhere starting this Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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