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Footprints and Clues

Men obsessed in The Walk and Digging for Fire




THE WALK. You might remember that back on Aug. 7, 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit walked for about 45 minutes on a high-wire cable strung between the tops of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. I do — it was all over the news that night and the paper the next morning, and as a 6-year-old, I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, this was the same week that President Nixon was resigning, and I recall being annoyed about that less important-seeming spectacle crowding it out of the news, and that the grown-ups around me seemed much more focused on that particular event.

It's more likely you recall this remarkable event of Petit's from James Marsh's amazing Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man on Wire, which used interviews, historical footage and some clever cinematic touches to tell the story of how it all happened, playing out like a great heist film. But in a time when remakes and reboots abound in Hollywoodland, it's not at all surprising to find that winning an Academy Award doesn't mean that a room full of people can decide that same story could work even better as a feature.

And that's just what veteran techo-whiz director Robert Zemeckis (Flight, Cast Away) does here, and he does a fairly admirable job. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also does better than expected, pulling off a French accent that isn't distracting or clumsy, considering I didn't even think about it until the ride home from the theater. The backstory of how he became fixated on making the walk is interesting without dragging, and we get to learn some not-uninteresting things about equipment like cavaletti and guide lines, some of it delivered by Ben Kingsley, who plays a mentor to Petit.

But you won't really remember any of that later. The back half of the film that involves the night-before preparation and the walk itself is what you would expect from Zemeckis, and it goes without saying that anyone with acrophobia should stay at home — the high-wire act in which Petit variously walked, knelt and lay down on a cable between two 1,350-foot skyscrapers is delivered in great, dizzying detail. The CGI re-creation of the twin towers is seamless and stunning, and there's obviously some poignancy in seeing them reborn on screen. To the film's credit, it doesn't push that link hard at all, because clearly the memory of their destruction is something that any moviegoer will think about upon seeing them.

One great measure of a film is its ability to show you something you've never seen before, be it a world, a subculture or a new perspective. The big problem with The Walk is that it shows anyone who's seen Man on Wire something that they quite literally have seen before, and as a feature topic it's simply not as compelling. Just as the made-for-HBO film Grey Gardens paled in comparison to the epochal 1976 documentary of the same name, The Walk is evidence that the truth is not just stranger than fiction, it's also usually better. PG. 123m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

DIGGING FOR FIRE. Prolific director and veteran of the "mumblecore" filmmaking movement Joe Swanberg (Art History, Happy Christmas) has gotten more polished through the years, and seems to have found a good niche working with much the same group of actors, and also as the characters that populate his films have correspondingly aged from 20-somethings into older (but not necessarily happier), mostly married people in their 30s.

This time it's married couple Tim (Jack Johnson, who also co-scripted with Swanberg) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt of Rachel Getting Married), respectively a schoolteacher and yoga instructor with a 3-year-old son. Housesitting for a few weeks in the Los Angeles hills at the swanky home of Lee's client, we see them as happy but in a state of unease over the usual real-world stuff (doing a big pile of taxes on the table, arguing about letting her parents pay for their kid to go to an expensive school), in addition to Tim making a less mundane find — what may be a human bone and an old revolver in the underbrush of their host's property.

Swanberg's film unspools nicely and naturally over the course of a weekend in which Lee goes to leave their son at her folks' house in hope of a night out with a friend. Tim stays behind, most definitely doesn't put a dent in the taxes, invites some friends over and, most importantly, keeps on digging and digging in the backyard, getting more curious as he goes. With its long takes and easy cuts between the spouses as things unfold over the weekend, Digging for Fire is a winning and engaging comedy-drama, bolstered by a great cast that includes Ron Livingston, Melanie Lynskey, Jenny Slate, Orlando Bloom, Anna Kendrick, Mike Birbiglia and Sam Rockwell, who is outstanding and annoying as that one brash, leather-jacketed friend we all have— the one who still hasn't grown out of how he was at 23. R. 96m. RICHARDS' GOAT MINIPLEX.

David Jervis

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


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Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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