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‘The Walk’ Looks Like a Tricky Balancing Act For Awards Voters

Several films have become classics due to one key sequence: for example, “Ben-Hur” with its chariot race and “Bullitt” with the car chase. TriStar’s “The Walk” is another film where the climactic final scene will be what viewers remember most — so is that enough to interest awards voters?

The Walk” tells the true story of Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, just as construction was being completed. The tale was first told in the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary, “Man on Wire” — which some say is still fresh, possibly too fresh, in many viewers’ minds.

The first hour is foreplay (with director Robert Zemeckis offering some fun use of 3D), the next 30 minutes is a suspense-building caper — and the final half-hour is a heart-stopping sequence that is so expertly realized that it could earn the film awards attention.

“Walk” begins an IMAX platform release Wednesday and opens wide Oct. 9. The cinematography and visual effects make it imperative to see in a theater  (what a concept: film business voters seeing a film in a cinema, rather than at home!).

In the climactic sequence, the flashiest work is from the visual effects team under VFX supervisor Kevin Baillie; they created layers of complexity in each shot, which was undoubtedly more difficult due to 3D considerations. But don’t overlook the cinematography of Dariusz Wolski, editing of Jeremiah O’Driscoll and the production design of Naomi Shohan and music by Alan Silvestri.

Will acclaim for below-the-line work catapult the film into other Oscar categories, such as director and best pic? It’s too soon to tell, especially since some film festival titles that are currently hot will cool off by December. Having more popcorn movies in consideration this year, such as “The Walk” and “The Martian,” could be a welcome change of pace. Another wild card is “Star Wars,” which was nominated for best pic in 1978. With so much industry affection for the franchise, the force could be with the latest installment.

Despite the white-knuckle half-hour and coda (a subtle but effective reminder of 9/11), “The Walk” has a light-hearted tone, though it’s not likely to make it onto the Golden Globes comedy ballot. It’s mostly a caper pic; like the protagonist in “Ocean’s Eleven,” Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) carefully builds his team of conspirators before his amazing, law-breaking act. And it’s basically played for laughs.

Gordon-Levitt’s performance has all the requisite elements that actors usually love, including an accent and a physical transformation. His French accent may be a little ooh-la-la for some, but footage of Petit shows that Gordon-Levitt got it right. His performance is more jaunty and twinkle-eyed than most of the heavy-duty work that actors are doing this year — so competing with the rest of the oh-so-serious actors will be a tricky balancing act.

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