The Walk (2014) / Drama-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for thematic elements involving perilous situations, and for some nudity, language, brief drug references and smoking
Running Time: 123 min.
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine, Benedict Samuel, Cesar Domboy
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne (based on the book, "To Reach the Clouds", by Philippe Petit)
Review published October 1 , 2015
The Walk is special effects-flick guru Robert Zemeckis (Flight, A Christmas Carol) dramatization of French-born wire-walker Philippe Petit's attempt to walk a steel cable tied between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center back in 1974. It's a story that's been done before, most notably in Philippe's 2002 memoir, "To Reach the Clouds", and James Marsh's Oscar-winning documentary of 2008, Man on Wire, but this effort might merit interest even among those who know the story well thanks to its release in stunning, vertiginous IMAX 3D, putting us on that wire 415 meters above the street right along with Petit.
Petit is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Don Jon), adopting an iffy French accent, narrating the story from the torch of the Statue of Liberty (a French contribution, fittingly), with the World Trade Center off in the distance. The narration frames the drama that begins with then Petit growing up an acrobatic street performer in Paris, who learns to walk wires with the help of a kindly Czech-born circus veteran named Papa Rudy (Kingsley, Self/less). It is there he meets a street musician named Annie (Le Bon, The Hundred-Foot Journey), who becomes his girlfriend and first accomplice in what he would later call "the coup", which is what he would call his mission to walk the ultimate high wire spanning the 130 feet of distance between the Twin Towers after they are constructed. Further accomplices are drawn in to help when he makes it to Manhattan, including a photographer and a math genius.
I don't normally recommend viewing in IMAX 3D to enjoy feature films, but I do think that The Walk will likely be a much different experience without it. Not that it wouldn't be enjoyable, as this is still a very interesting story, but you will lack that added feel of reality that a well-rendered movie on a large-format screen in three dimensions can provide.
The show-stopper climax of the film won't be a surprise to anyone who has seen any of the marketing for The Walk, as much of the action you see in ads and trailers is culled from the enthralling climactic sequence in which Petit performs his wire-walk above Manhattan. Before this, Zemeckis tries to generate excitement in the build-up to 'the walk', mostly through a designing the plot to get to the top of one tower and shoot, with a bow and arrow, a thread across to the other tower that will allow for larger sizes of rope to be pulled across before, finally, the steel cable can be reeled over. There are many nail-biting moments interspersed that require deft timing, manipulation of people in the building, and general avoidance of security. Any misstep could cause the entire mission to be aborted, and likely would lead tot hem all being arrested, but since we all know what the film is about, there's not a great deal of mystery. Zemeckis makes sure the journey is as interesting and entertaining as can be to the final destination.
The cast is lively, with an especially energetic performance from Gordon-Levitt that certainly gives the film the zip Zemeckis is striving for. However, it doesn't really probe very deeply into the reasons behind Petit's hunger for daredevil thrills, and the supporting characters are sketchily drawn out, with each member seemingly only having one basic trait or character flaw (the acrophobic, the freak-out stoner (my least favorite character by a long shot), the fast-talking salesman, etc.) that will come into play sometime during the story's ramp-up to the main event. The New Yorkers are mostly stereotypes, thickly accented, curt, and chewing gum incessantly. The cops say, "Show's over", as New York cops always seem to do in films, and not just once.
Though it doesn't reference the events of 9/11 directly, one gets the sense from the nostalgic beats of the film toward the Twin Towers, especially in its final shots, that the film is meant as a tribute to the fallen buildings that were once Earth's tallest man-made structures. At the end, though, The Walk (my 'clever' alternate title would have been, Building Tension) lives or dies on its special effects razzle dazzle, and how much you enjoy it may likely come down to how wowed you are by the visuals, which are impressive, and if the $35 million production budget is to be believed, quite a lesson in economical grand-scale filmmaking.
©2015 Vince Leo