Thursday, June 4, 2015

The First Trailer of "The Walk" Hopes That You Haven't Seen "Man on Wire." Otherwise, What's the Point?

Joseph Gordon Levitt
In 2008, director James Marsh released the documentary Man on Wire. It followed the journey of real life tightrope walker Philippe Petit as he infamously performed a routine between both of the World Trade Center buildings. It was an astounding achievement in film making as it turned an unnerving real life story into a cinematic heist film as well. It was a film that was so acclaimed that it remains one of the highest rated titles on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes and took home the Best Documentary award at that year's Oscars ceremony. With The Walk, director Robert Zemeckis is looking to reenact these events with Joseph Gordon Levitt in the central role. The better question is why this is even necessary.

While there have been many adaptations of documentary subjects into the fictional world, it is usually from a documentary that is conceived to be inaccessible to general audiences. There's something challenging about it that keeps it from becoming required viewing. However, Man on Wire is one that holds its own and its real life consequences makes it all the more gripping. Also, it doesn't seem like the most cinematic thing in the world to reenact a scenario in which the outcome is already known and told in a format that did it far better. Even if I like Levitt and feel that he is overdue for some Oscar consideration, it is hard to not see this as anything but in the same vein as Flight or Cast Away: a chance for an actor to flex his muscles while a director does something else.

Check out the trailer below:

There is an initial hurdle of getting over the film's existence, especially for those that had seen Man on Wire. While Levitt pulls off the accent and physical mannerisms, there isn't much that is necessarily new here. At best, we get scenes that were dictated in the documentary that come to life here. We even get glimpses of him on the tightrope practicing his routine. The only issue is that the trailer is really predicated on you not knowing what happened in Man on Wire, as there's a few jump scares that suggest a potential demise. Basically, this looks like a reenactment without any bigger substance behind it, and that makes it harder to be excited about.

The one notion that has been heard is that Zemeckis wants to make it a more visceral experience. Where we have never seen footage of Philippe Petit in action, he plans to make something that captures it from various angles and give it new definition. This may seem like an admirable goal, but it also seems unnecessary. While I am willing to give Zemeckis credit for being able to liven up peril, as seen most prominently in Flight, I don't exactly know how you turn a man crossing a tightrope into high cinematic art. There will have to be something more that we haven't seen yet. However, speaking as Man on Wire was both a great documentary and a solid take on the heist film, it will take some creativity to get me to care.

I honestly don't know if this will have any chance at the Oscars. At most, I can see Zemeckis once again going for the acting categories. With The Academy already familiar with the story, it may seem likely that they'll be more willing to pay tribute to Levitt's performance, provided that it is as spot on as the trailers make it out to be. However, I still have trouble finding what is supposed to be interesting about this story on its most basic level. We've already seen it in an Oscar-winning documentary form. How can fictionalizing it make it any better? This is one of the Oscar season's hardest to swallow candidates that I have seen so far.

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