Walk the Line

walk12017.45: The Walk (2015)

I should immediately state that I have no head for heights. I hate ’em. It is partly why it has taken me so long to get around to watching this film- I’m certainly glad I didn’t see it at the cinema, and absolutely certain that had I been watching this in 3D Imax I would have been fleeing the place well before the end of the movie (I have NEVER walked out of a movie, but this might have been the exception). As it is, watching it at home on my humble Bravia was quite enough to have me cringing in nervous horror with my legs turning to jelly.

But I was laughing along through my terror, because The Walk, based upon the real-life story of Philippe Petit, a Frenchman who walked on a wire across New York’s Twin Towers in 1974, is a surprisingly light-hearted, jovial film. In that respect it is rather old-fashioned, a throwback to an Old Hollywood that predates the actual events it depicts. It’s a warm, fuzzy, pleasant heist-caper movie, a ‘triumph of the human spirit’ kind of film; its fun. This may I suspect have been a deliberate choice, in the face of what the Twin Towers represent to us all post-9/11. The film tries to remind us that before that awful tragedy, the Twin Towers represented something else, and of course were an awe-inspiring, world-famous landmark. As it is, there is an inevitable poignancy to every shot involving the Towers, just as there is in any film in which they are portrayed, particularly films actually shot in the 1970s or 1980s.  Here things are heightened (sic); the Towers are a work of art, brand-new, shiny and beautiful, positively aglow (in a similar way, I note, to how James Cameron portrayed the Titanic in his film).

Director Robert Zemeckis has long been something of a technical magician in film- he has always pushed the boundaries of what is possible in film to tell a story, whether it be the split-screen magic of the Back to the Future films, the virtual camera utilised in Contact, the cgi enhancements of Forest Grump. With The Walk he creates a virtual landscape, using set and landscape enhancements to construct the Towers and the 1974 New York City and the death-defying feat of crossing that wire between the Two Towers. It’s a phenomenal achievement in photo-real visual effects that certainly had me on the edge of my seat. I am sure, as is the norm for a Zemeckis film, that there were lots of shots that passed me by with all sorts of digital enhancements that I didn’t see. Visually it’s a magical film.

And thank goodness I can for the second review in a row mention a fantastic soundtrack. Longtime Robert Zemeckis collaborator Alan Silvestri has composed a charming, bouncy score that mixes jazz moments with soaring strings full of of wonder and tension. It accompanies the film perfectly and is a fine reminder of the power of music to establish mood and the intensity-level of a film. The score instantly establishes that this is a fun ride, an uplifting adventure-  for the audience to sit back, relax and  enjoy an amazing true-life story.

So anyway, trembling knees aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this refreshingly light-hearted film. And those Towers never looked prettier.

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Fifty Great Films: The French Connection (1971)

french1Staying in the 1970s for the second of my Fifty Great Films, I re-watched The French Connection last night, this time on Blu-ray. Actually, I should point out the disc is the second of the film’s Blu-ray releases, an American multi-region disc that restores the original ‘look’ of the film (the first Blu-ray release, which is the only one available here in the UK far as I know, had extensive ‘director-approved’ colour-timing changes that enraged purists).

Time has been very kind to The French Connection. It’s gritty docu-drama style must have been eye-opening back in 1971 and proved to be a game-changer for cop thrillers, and today over forty years later it stands, like Taxi Driver does, as an historical record of a time and place long gone. Those cars, the music, those almost apocalyptic streets! Its a sure sign that with the new decade films were changing, and that a New Wave was about to hit Hollywood-  the film has a sense of reality far removed from that of a Hollywood thriller of the time. This would follow through to a downbeat ending that must have seemed shockingly abrupt back at a time when the good guys always ‘won’ and the bad guys always got caught.

New York was such a seedy, broken city back then, particularly in the locations chosen for this film, and there is an air of authenticity to the whole thing that is endlessly fascinating. Of course, that isn’t hurt by the fact that the film is based on true events, in which two cops stumbled upon ties between New York mobsters and French heroin traffickers, their subsequent investigation leading to one of the biggest illegal narcotics seizures ever.

You simply cannot take your eyes off Gene Hackman in this film- his presence dominates everything, and his performance rightfully won him the Oscar for Best Actor. Really, you cannot take your eyes off him. There is an extraordinary truth to him in every scene; he looks so beat-up and life-worn, a flawed,  middle-aged cop working on rough streets- I cannot imagine any Hollywood ‘star’ in such a role these days. Well, to be fair, there’s not many so-called stars in Hollywood these days with the lived-in looks of Hackman, most of them are far too pretty-looking and ‘perfect’. Hollywood these days seems more pre-occupied with fantasy and the ‘ideal’ than the gritty realities of films like this.  Co-star Roy Scheider is as capable and wonderful as he ever was, but this is Hackman’s film, no question.

Scheider of course had the success of Jaws still ahead of him- what a thought that is, what a decade the 1970s was! Indeed, when one considers that Hackman’s subsequent films that decade would include The Poseidon Adventure, The Conversation and Superman: The Movie.. wow, you gotta love those 1970s. It all started with The French Connection though, and its a riveting performance that shines brightly still. Hell of a film.