Film reviews: The Walk | Suffragette | Hotel Transylvania 2

CGI brings Philippe Petit’s audacious high-wire walk between the Twin Towers to stomach-lurching life

The Walk
The Walk
The Walk

The Walk (PG)

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon

Rating: ***

The story of French tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s death-defying 1974 high-wire performance between the towers of the about-to-open World Trade Centre was so beautifully chronicled in James Marsh’s 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire that a big Hollywood dramatisation of the same story might have seemed redundant, were it not for one thing: no documentary footage of the act itself exists.

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The covert, highly illegal nature of the stunt, combined with the lack of rapid response news copters, means that aside from the photos that Petit’s “conspirators” took, this very public spectacle only really exists now in the memories of those who were there, watching from the street a quarter of a mile below. As such, Petit’s self-styled “artistic coup” stands in poignant and celebratory contrast to the horrifying footage burned into our minds of the Towers’ subsequent destruction, 27 years later.

In a strange way that makes The Walk a much more valid and worthwhile movie than it at first appears. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film brings the full force of his technological know-how to bear on the vertiginous thrills that come from seeing Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) step out onto that wire, 110 storeys above the ground. Watched in 3D on an IMAX screen, the CGI finale – magisterial in its composition – reclaims the building from all those digital images of destruction caught by news crews and the public during 9/11.

In these scenes, Zemeckis reminds us of the power that movies have when technology is combined with showmanship – appropriate really, since Petit is nothing if not a showman. Gordon-Levitt’s ’Allo ’Allo-style accent might make him seem like an unintentionally silly and clownish presence for much of the film, but in these moments he moves through the frame with the balletic grace of a street performer who wants to be where his head is: in the clouds.

Unfortunately the film is structured as a biopic and is thus beholden to lots of hokey flashpoint moments from Petit’s life, outlined in the most heavy-handed way imaginable by Gordon-Levitt repeatedly breaking the fourth wall to narrate Petit’s story from atop the Statue of Liberty. Wobbling proceedings further is Zemeckis’s decision to opt for the zany tone of a caper movie to depict the preparation of this victimless criminal enterprise – and some of the effects in the early parts of the movie also have an overanimated quality that’s needlessly distracting.

But if that means the film frequently alternates between awesome and awful, it’s worth it for those final, stomach-lurching 45 minutes when Petit becomes man on wire once again.

Hotel Transylvania 2 (U)

Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

Voices: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Mel Brooks

Rating: ***

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Adam Sandler scored his biggest hit in aeons voicing Dracula in the first Hotel Transylvania, so with Halloween and the school holidays on the horizon, it’s hardly surprising that he’d want to make a sequel. What is surprising is that the results are watchable and even funny in places. This time out, Dracula, whose daughter has married the first film’s slacker backpacker, is worried that his new grandson is more human than vampire. Taking it upon himself to bring out the monster in him, Dracula’s horrified to learn the whole world has gone soft, with monsters and humans draining all the fun out of their children’s lives. What follows is mostly fast-paced and fun, with the occasional choice gags skewering modern parenting techniques and supplying more smiles than expected.

Suffragette (12A)

Directed by: Sarah Gavron

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Romola Garai

Rating: **

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A fictionalised account of the frequently violent struggle to secure voting rights for British women in the early 20th century, Suffragette certainly scores points for the worthiness of the message, just not for the pedestrian way it gets that message across. Directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) and scripted by Abi Morgan (Shame), the film squanders a brilliant cast by relegating Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep) to a one-scene cameo and proceeds to spend the remainder of the movie zeroing in on Carey Mulligan’s Maud, an everywoman whose gradual transformation from exploited factory worker to proto-feminist inevitably tears her family apart. Presumably written to represent the sacrifices ordinary women across the land were forced to make to secure a better future for themselves and their children, Maud’s awakening is like a Wikipedia brought to life: she’s a cipher, there to link the flashpoint moments of the movement, not a three-dimensional human being with an interior life of her own. What a shame.

Zarafa (U)

Directed by: Rémi Bezançon, Jean-Christophe Lie

Voices: Max Renaudin Pratt, Simon Abkarian, Déborah François

Rating: ***

If the international success of Studio Ghibli has proven anything it’s that kids will happily watch subtitled fare if they’re enchanted by the storytelling and the animation. Despite its oh-so-worthy overtones, this Belgian animation about a Sudanese slave-boy’s efforts to escape his captors and save a giraffe he’s befriended – the titular Zarafa – will likely appeal to those weaned on films like Ponyo and Tales from Earthsea. Gently told, but with wild flights of imagination involving hot-air balloons, nomads and spectacular scenery, it’s a charming adventure, undercut with wise observations about big themes – death, exploitation, loneliness – that refuse to condescend to the target audience.

I Believe in Miracles (12A)

Directed by: Jonny Owen

Rating: ***

Straight-talking controversy magnet Brian Clough is an understandably fascinating subject for filmmakers. With The Damned United covering his brief tenure as manager of Leeds United (44 days in total), Jonny Owen’s new documentary picks up his story in the immediate aftermath to explore how he transformed his next club, Nottingham Forest, from a Second Division side facing relegation to Division One champions and European Champions within five years. Making use of new and archival interviews with key players, the film offers a gripping account of his remarkable achievements, but can’t quite transcend its status as a mere sports doc for interested fans.