Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Robert Zemeckis & Christopher Browne
In 1974, I was not even born yet (not to make anyone feel old). In 2001, I was in my 8th grade math class. In 2008, I was in college, and just entering into my love of film by seeing literally anything and everything I could. If a friend, roommate, classmate had a film I hadn’t seen, I wanted to see it. At that point in time I was far less concerned by the quality, wanting to absorb every piece of movie magic that I could. I couldn’t really explain what it was that made me so movie mad, but there truly was magic in it. Even the worst of films I saw I found something interesting, or worthwhile. There is such joy, and sorrow, and sympathy, and an even fuller list of emotions available in the viewing of a singular film. 2008 was also when Man on Wire was released, which completely blew me away. Lucky for us, it didn’t actually blow Philippe Petit away.
The Walk is the dramatization of the award-winning documentary Man on Wire (and Petit’s book To Reach the Clouds), which chronicles the incredible life of Petit, in particular his most famous “coup” of illegally trespassing on the World Trade Center towers to string a high-wire cable between the two buildings and walk it in front of an unsuspecting crowd of thousands. For anyone who may not have known the story before, it seems like it wouldn’t be real, or that it would be impossible. However, Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his team of accomplices (including his girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon)) set out to complete one of the most remarkable, dangerous, and most tremendously beautiful capers of all time.
Of course having been so impressed by James Marsh’s Man on Wire, I was extremely worried that The Walk would pale in comparison to such a great work. In some ways it does, and I believe there was no possible way The Walk would have ever been even as good as Man on Wire(go see it, really). But that does not mean there is nothing of value in seeing a much more commercially accessible version of the story. Because it is more commercially accessible I must applaud it, as Petit’s story is one worth hearing, and seeing. Zemeckis, master of the unbelievable (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Cast Away) brings us the type of film that Petit’s story deserves: light, fun, and full of energy.
I have to admit I was also a bit worried about Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role as well (I had a lot of worries coming into this). Could he really pull off the French accent without being annoying? Yes, his French is actually quite good (from what I can tell) and the accent was not as distracting as I thought it would be. Could he really pull off the enthusiasm that Petit has for life, his wire, and entertaining people? Yes again! Gordon-Levitt delivers a very nice performance, and more importantly a convincing one full of enthusiasm. The real star of the show here though is the special effects, which bring to life the high-wire walk that made Petit famous in such a breathtaking fashion. The scene plays long, truncating much of the rest of the story, but it deserves its length. This is the story being told, and being able to revel in his beautiful achievement is the most important part of this film. Zemeckis and Gordon-Levitt get the walk right.
I think it is important to note that this does not play out as a remake of Man on Wire with actors. Zemeckis makes his own film and tells his own story with The Walk. And while there may be some things that seem lacking (like any true character development, even for Philippe), the spirit of Petit and his achievement exists from beginning to end with this film. The filmmakers have truly crafted a film which will amaze audiences in IMAX 3D, but which also plays as a love story to the Twin Towers, and to Philippe Petit’s passion for life and for art. It takes the impossible and makes it real, just as Petit did that August day in New York City atop the two most beautiful buildings in the city. New Yorkers may not have known they were beautiful at the time, but they certainly did after. The Walk provides the movie magic I first saw in 2008 with Man on Wire.
*** – Good