By Adam Garcia
The 1-4-0: With #TheWalk, Robert Zemeckis creates an amazing—and moving—3D experience about Philippe Petit’s high wire performance between the Twin Towers.
The Gist: Based on the true story behind Philippe Petit’s daredevil tightrope walk between the Twin Towers, Zemeckis follows Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his co-conspirators in their efforts to create one of the most iconic circus acts of all time.
What Works: The biggest question going into The Walk isn’t “will Petit succeed”—we know he did—but “will the audience care?” Petit’s stunt was an incredible mixture of arrogance and art, and in the wrong hands, the former could easily outweigh the latter. But under Zemeckis’s deft direction and Gordon-Levitt’s undeniable charisma, The Walk becomes one of the most singular movie-going experiences of the year. Structuring the film as a heist, Zemeckis moves beyond the pitfalls of most bio-pics, creating a thrilling caper that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat at every turn. But it’s the walk itself that will leave you breathless. It is almost impossible to overstate Zemeckis’s masterful use of 3D. While many films add 3D as an afterthought, Zemeckis uses the added dimension to create a visceral experience that pulls the audience out of the theatre and onto the wire alongside Petit. From the moment Petit steps onto the tightrope to the second his performance is done, the audience is gripping their armrest, their hearts hammering in their throats. (In the critic’s screening I attended, there were a more than a few audible gasps and sighs of relief.)
Acting as narrator and protagonist, Gordon-Levitt, approaches Petit with authenticity, showcasing the performer’s inherent charm but never shying away from his arrogance. Charlotte Le Bon elevates the lone female role from what could have easily been the “supportive girlfriend” role to a character with refreshing depth. Steve Valentine steals every scene as Petit’s “inside man” Barry Greenhouse—but that simply might just be due to his epic mustache. Likewise, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Clément Sibony, Ben Kingsley, César Domboy, all approach their characters with a refreshing amount of charm. But it is the closing moments of the film that ring the loudest. It’s been said that Petit’s performance transformed the Twin Towers from bland, silver boxes in the sky to something majestic. Likewise, Zemeckis uses the final minutes of The Walk to remind us that the Towers weren’t just a source of tragedy, that they were once something magical, something that could inspire someone to risk his life to do the impossible.
What Doesn’t Work: The first half of the film suffers from some awkward pacing and fairly generic, if not boring, bio-pic moments. Similarly, the decision to open and the film with Petit speaking directly to the audience initially falls flat. But as the film finds it rhythm, even the seemingly over-the-top visual of Petit standing atop the Statue of Liberty, with the Twin Towers behind him, becomes emotionally arresting.
Pay or Nay: Pay. If ever there was a film that showed the sheer raw potential for 3D as viable means of storytelling it is The Walk. Zemeckis tells an uplifting and visceral tale that absolutely must be experienced in theaters, and not on your cellphone. But, if you’re afraid of heights or suffer from vertigo, then you might want to skip this. (Sorry, mom.)
Rated: PG for thematic elements involving perilous situations, and for some nudity, language, brief drug references and smoking
Release Date: October 2, 2015
Screenplay: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne, Philippe Petit
Director(s): Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Clement Sibony, Cesar Domboy, Benedict Samuel, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine, Mark Camacho
Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Film Genre: Adventure, Biography, Drama