In Robert Zemeckis’ biographical drama film The Walk, Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays the legendary high-wire walker Philippe Petit, and in doing so, well and truly stakes a claim to make it into the coveted A-list. You don’t just make it, you have to earn it, and with a performance as strong as his in The Walk, he surely has. Gordon-Levitt’s hardly new to the scene, acting on screen since 1988, but there is something about him here that shows the kind of quality that many of today’s big names have shown, and that would often mean awards recognition, something that I believe Gordon-Levitt really does deserve.
With 2 deserved Golden Globe nominations under his belt, for (500) Days of Summer and 50/50, Gordon-Levitt has become a favourite of critics and audiences alike, with his charm and good looks lighting up the screen, whether it be as a child star on the classic sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, or in blockbuster action films, such as Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. However, he’s also been actor that’s rarely trusted to be the star, even with leading roles in (500) Days of Summer, especially roles with gravitas. This is where The Walk comes in, a film that shows Gordon-Levitt at his finest, a role he was seemingly born to play.
The real life Philippe Petit was a showman, a man who loved to entertain, whether it was hundreds of feet up in the air or on the streets of Paris. All you have to do is to watch his lip sync of Nicki Minaj’s Superbass to know how much Gordon-Levitt loves to perform. Petit was French, and has a strong accent, something that many actors would struggle to grasp. Luckily for Gordon-Levitt, he’s fluent in French, having studied French poetry at Columbia University, and the accent comes to him easily, impressing with his use of the accent in both French and English. Petit is a character that would have been the type of character that would have been adored in the Golden Age of Hollywood, you could only just imagine him being portrayed by The Artist‘s George Valentin. But that’s a testament to Gordon-Levitt that he is able to have these qualities, especially in the age of muscular action heroes and big names that just coast each role. He’s an old school actor, one that can sing, dance and, most importantly, perform and entertain.
This would have been a role for which an Oscar nomination would be all but secured: there’s the transformation, the accent, several scenes that show his range, both quiet and loud, and there is real skill involved (Gordon-Levitt had an 8-day course with the real Petit when learning how to walk on the wire, something that he really excels at). Instead, his name has barely been brought up in the Best Actor conversation, even though it is a comparatively weak year for the category. Of course he’s not going to challenge to win, but it would be nice to see him mentioned. Gordon-Levitt’s never going to be on a par with actors like Michael Fassbender, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and Eddie Redmayne, all of which have a film that is massively in contention, but excluding him from this company makes you wonder what the purpose of the category is, to applaud the best actor, or the best performance. That’s why it frustrates me that performances, like Matt Damon’s in The Martian, are considered as more deserving that someone like Gordon-Levitt’s performance in The Walk. Damon is all right in the film, but he mainly coasts and doesn’t show his obvious acting range. However, Gordon-Levitt shows true skill and carries the entirety of the film on his shoulders, giving a terrific display that is consistent throughout.
Gordon-Levitt will hope that success continues to his next film, Oliver Stone’s Snowden, in which he portrays the divisive whistleblower Edward Snowden, another role that he seems perfect for, despite being a character miles away from Petit. All we can do now is hope that the Academy have it in their hearts to reward an actor who has shaken off typecasting and his child actor roots to give one of the year’s best leading performances. An Oscar nomination will change an actor like Gordon-Levitt’s career, allowing him to stretch himself in more and more meaty roles. Actors like Matt Damon will always get great work because of his track record, which mainly started with his 2 Oscar nominations (and 1 win) for Good Will Hunting. He can get by without this kind of recognition.
With Gordon-Levitt now also a director and screenwriter (his debut film, Don Jon, earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination), the future is looking bright for him. He’s got a big fan base, a hit show (his show HitRECord on TV won a Primetime Emmy in 2014) and a proven filmography packed with great performances, the best of which coming in The Walk. All we need now is that Oscar nomination. Please.
The Walk in currently available in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX in Cinemas worldwide.