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The Comedy of Errors

The Walk

4 October 15 words: Nick Parkhouse
Robert Zemeckis directs the dramatisation of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the world trade center buildings
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Over recent years Hollywood studios have increasingly focused on a narrow range of tactics to ensure the success of their films. The penchant for sequels and superhero movies is well documented while films based on well-known books and TV shows also guarantee an audience.

Now, though, studios have spotted another potential route to profit by making dramas based on well-regarded documentaries. Alex Gibney's cycling documentary The Armstrong Lie is about to get a dramatic retelling as The Program, while Sandra Bullock is being hotly tipped for awards success in the new drama Our Brand Is Crisis based on Rachel Boynton's 2005 documentary of the same name.

Back in 2008, James Marsh's biography of French high-wire walker Philippe Petit, Man On Wire, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Now, director Robert Zemeckis has adapted Petit's book Reach For The Clouds into The Walk, a drama based on the life of the pioneering artist.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit in a story which follows the young Frenchman from his early street performances to his audacious high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center in August 1974. As well as learning how Petit perfected his balancing act we also get to see the meticulous and lengthy preparation that went into his New York performance - Petit called it 'le coup' - over a number of years.

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Zemeckis has a long track record of making engaging family-friendly films and The Walk is no exception. It does take a little time to get used to the slightly false 'to camera' narration and to Gordon-Levitt's occasionally rather 'Allo 'Allo French accent, but once The Walk gets into its stride it really does hit some heights.

In many ways it is a story that seems too elaborate to be true and so all writers Zemeckis and Christopher Browne really have to do is tell it how it happened. As the hour of the walk comes closer the accomplices encounter a range of problems and the tension is ramped up to fever pitch even before Petit takes a step onto the wire. The walk itself is an absolutely dizzying experience and if you do suffer from vertigo or any fear of heights you will find elements of The Walk absolutely stomach-churning.

While not a fan of 3D cinema I saw The Walk on an IMAX screen in 3D and there are moments where the quarter-mile drop, from the top of the towers to the streets of New York, seem startlingly real. Even if you are okay with heights I guarantee that the 3D experience will make you feel queasy at some point and you'll find yourself willing Petit back onto the relative safety of the observation deck.

The Walk is precisely the sort of film that Zemeckis does so well. Entertaining, tense and fast-paced it is a great story well told and should have broad appeal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Charlotte le Bon are excellent in the lead roles and there are some genuinely breathtaking special effects. Zemeckis also strikes the perfect tone in a couple of poignant final scenes in which the story becomes as much a love story for the towers themselves as a tale of supreme human endeavour.

The Walk is easily one of the most enjoyable films you will see this year and the second half is (if you'll excuse the pun) a towering achievement.

The Walk is currently showing in Nottingham Cinemas.

The Walk Trailer

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