The Walk (2015)

20 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I won’t issue a Spoiler Alert, because the story of Philippe Petit walking a tightrope across the Twin Towers is very well-known.

Early in the morning of August 7th, 1974, an amazing occurrence/performance happened at the original World Trade Center. French acrobat Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope that spanned from the top of one tower to the top of the other—a 200-foot length over a thousand feet in the air! He spent a little over a half-hour performing his “walk,” with many New Yorkers watching from the ground. He risked life and limb with no harness to support him and no safety net to catch him if he fell. You could call it paid-off training crossed with instincts or a miracle, but what Petit did up there was incredible.

There was already a documentary made about the event, called “Man on Wire,” but director Robert Zemeckis (known for such well-crafted works such as “Back to the Future,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Forrest Gump,” “Cast Away,” “Flight”) decided to use his skills with camera angles and digital effects to recreate the performance in “The Walk,” a fictional retelling that goes into Petit’s origins, his team’s efforts in helping plan the “coup,” and ultimately his famous “walk.”

The film is split in three segments. The first segment is somewhat biographical, as Petit (played with energetic charisma by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose French accent is mildly distracting at first but grows on you quickly) doesn’t like to think about “death.” When he’s on the wire, performing on the streets of Paris, he claims he never feels more alive. When he hears about the Twin Towers in New York City, he immediately thinks of the perfect place for his “wire.” While in training, under master wire walker Master Rudy (Ben Kingsley), he meets people like his partner in crime (and in love) Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), photographer Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), and math teacher Jeff (Cesar Domboy), who has a fear of heights—they all become his accomplices as he plans a heist at the Twin Towers. It’s a different kind of heist: a mission to steal a moment in time.

The second segment leads up to the “walk,” as Petit and company go to New York, gain more accomplices, and put their plan into motion. There is much suspense involved when the gang is attempting at night to get the wire ready by morning and in danger of being caught at any time. (And of course, there must be at least two moments in which the acrophobic Jeff has to face his fears—a cheap shot but effective nonetheless.)

Then comes the actual walk, about an hour-and-a-half into this two-hour film. This is unquestionably the film’s highlight. Do I even need to say how fantastic it looks? It’s Robert Zemeckis making a reenactment of Philippe Petit’s famous Wire Walk—knowing his reputation for great-looking craft, I knew this was going to be something special. And I have to admit, as someone who is terrified of heights, watching this was so effective that I cringed and held onto my seat in fear. (Though, I did at first see it in a theater, and my second viewing, on a laptop screen, wasn’t nearly as effective. But it still looks good.)

Many critics have complained that the film has too much buildup to its final act, but honestly, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed getting to know Petit’s origins, his friends are appealing company, and the film is consistently good-looking, with numerous camera tricks and neat effects that occur even before the walk, such as passages of time. I also admired how Zemeckis executed the film much like a spy thriller, with the characters scoping out the layout of the Trade Center, trading secrets, and sneaking in to perform the ultimate task. Whatever problems you may have with “The Walk” may be counterbalanced by the final act alone, which is truly a spectacle to behold. But do yourself a favor, find the biggest screen you can, and watch it on that.

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