“The Walk” Movie Review


     After viewing director Robert Zemeckis’ new film “The Walk”, the true story of French daredevil Philippe Petit’s 1974 balancing act along a tight rope affixed from the roof of one World Trade Center tower to the other, I immediately started to think about another film I reviewed two weeks ago and how this was so much more satisfying.  The film I speak of is “Everest”, and while that film had its merits, it lacked the kind of perspective and visual bravado “The Walk” offers in a very similar scenario.  Both films feature a death defying stunt which takes several characters the length of an entire feature film to prepare for, and yet “Everest” fails to give the audience a proper payoff, choosing instead to function as a tribute to those who died, rather than feature the kind of camera movement and wide angle view that would show both the skill of the climbers and the peril which they faced.  Zemeckis knows the thrust of his storywill depend solely on delivering the kind of spectacle filmgoers will expect when viewing a film about a man doing a tight rope act some 1350 feet above ground.

     With an army of visual effects artists behind him, Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”, “Forrest Gump”) may have made the most visually spectacular film in quite some time.  Sure, we have to sit through a by the numbers origin story which covers nearly every aspect and detail of Petit and his crew’s complicated attempt to make the stunt a reality, but that third act in which it not only happens, but you feel a legitimate sensation of actually being out there on the wire yourself is certainly a trick only master filmmakers are capable of.  Zemeckis’ camera zooms and pans at every possible angle throughout, giving the viewer a thrilling seat along side Petit in what has to be one of the most insane stunts ever pulled off by a human.  Of course, you can get all of this from Petit himself by viewing James Marsh’s Academy Award winning documentary “Man on Wire” (2008), which is certainly the most authentic way to explore this incredible story.  Nonetheless, the Hollywood version more than earns its stripes as a purely exhilarating entertainment.

     It’s quite obvious from the first scene that Zemeckis, who co-wrote the script with Christopher Browne based on Petit’s book “To Reach the Clouds”, assumes we all know the story by way of historical word of mouth or having seen “Man on Wire” since we meet Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as the narrator of the film perched at the top of the Statue of Liberty.  It’s presumable he survives since his narration continues all the way to the end of the film as he describes what he was experiencing while on the wire as crowds formed below and the police arrived at the roof top.  We are taken to early 70s France where Petit rides a unicycle and juggles as a street performer.  Going back years earlier as a child, he is inspired by tight rope performers at a tent circus and soon creates his own tight rope in the backyard.  Through endless practice, he develops a talent for wire walking and is intent on taking his skill to the next level.

     He soon meets Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), who was the father of the family he watched perform tight rope walking as a child.  They develop a relationship in which Petit seeks to learn everything from the mental side of the act to actually hanging a wire properly (There’s actually quite a bit to it.).  During a street performance, Petit bites down on a piece of candy given to him by a little girl and cracks his tooth.  He rushes to the dentist and is told to sit in the waiting room, where he finds a magazine featuring an article on the soon to be completed World Trade Center.  The photo in the article gives quite a perspective to a French reader since it shows the towers dwarfing the Eiffel Tower in comparison.  Petit immediately knows it is his destiny to hang a wire from one tower to the other and complete what he constantly refers to as a “coup”.  Essentially, he wants to wire walk from one tower to the other tower, which is arguably insane.  Of course, much of the dialogue which leads up to the stunt does indeed indicate that Petit likely has a screw loose.  Preparation for his long term goal leads him to many failures, but also several triumphs, which give him the confidence necessary to move forward with putting his plan for the World Trade Center in motion.

     Peitit sets off to New York City with his girlfriend, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), and a team of helping hands of whom he coaches through a tedious middle half of the film that has the characters determining how they will get the needed supplies and equipment to the top of both towers and then properly hang the wire.  It could be said these scenes serve as a way to indicate the long odds they faced and build up some sort of tension.  But I’ll tell you, those scenes aside, when you get your first glimpse of the depth between the top of the World Trade Center and the ground below, the price of admission has been paid to you in full, especially if you view the film in IMAX 3D.  It isn’t often a filmmaker succeeds in offering a sequence with such an array of visual splendor and hold your breath thrills as Zemeckis does here.  And truth be told, what leads up to it isn’t bad in any sort of way.  Gordon-Levitt is outstanding as Petit and the supporting cast delivers what is asked of them.  If anything, Petit’s constant level of seriousness leaves little time for any real comic relief, but it also ramps up the enormous pressure and odds he faced and shows how he coped with it.  And when we do get to the film’s final 20 minutes depicting the events that occurred on the early morning of August 7th, 1974, what you see on screen will speak for itself.  GRADE: B+