Based on what I’ve read about Phillippe Petit, he had a silly and cloying personality. Not exactly sure who Phillippe Petit is? Why, Petit is the man who, in 1974, attached a high wire to both the north and south towers of the Twin Towers in New York City and performed a very illegal high-wire act. The Walk starring Joseph Gordon Levitt depicts the story behind an act that was never again duplicated. Robert Zemeckis directs this picture and in doing so continues his long track record of bringing the unbelievable to the screen. Remember this is the guy that turned a DeLorean into a time machine, seamlessly integrated cartoons and humans, and brought to life Forrest and Bubba- the only difference is that this story is nowhere close to being fictional.
True to the showmanship of the protagonist, The Walk opens with Petit (Joseph Gordon Levitt) breaking the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience as he narrates from what we realize very quickly is the torch of the Statue of Liberty. As the movie slowly trudges through Petit’s childhood, his relationship with a circus showman (Ben Kingsley) and a young street musician (Charlotte Le Bon), we realize that this story was crafted with inordinate amount of whimsy and nonsense. Whether Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne wanted that to be case, I can’t answer that for you. It does, however, take the pace of the film to a phlegmatic plod.
The Walk goes from zero to warp speed once Petit reaches New York City and he’s able to touch the World Trade Center for the first time. We do hit a slight bump in the momentum when we have to endure some hokum while Petit recruits an electronic salesman and a door-to-door salesman as his last two accomplices; then this movie jettisons itself into the stratosphere.
The 17-minute wire-walking sequence is one of the most awe-inspiring simulations of a real event since the ship sinking sequence in Titanic. This moment is nothing short of a dazzling triumph for digital effects, which once again shows just what a master Zemeicks is with CGI. The pacing here is never rushed. 17 minutes feels like an eternity, with the viewer transfixed on every microsecond Petit was on that wire 110 stories in the air. I was astonished to learn after the fact, the 17 minutes was actually a fraction of the time Petit stood on that wire. This sequence is done in such a marvelous manner it almost requires the verisimilitude of real time.
I can’t tell you that The Walk is a great movie because it’s not. It’s a good movie with great acting and visual effects. Joseph Gordon Levitt did an outstanding job in the lead role. He brought depth and complexity to the role that truly helped elevate this film.
The problem with this film is it doesn’t have enough source material. Let me explain: no one will argue the true beauty in what Mr. Petit did on that fateful day in 1974, to this day it is one of the most memorable high-wire acts in U.S. History. What I will argue is, does anyone actually care about Mr. Petit’s background? I know the whole time I was watching The Walk I was bursting with anticipation, waiting to see Mr. Petit take his first step on that wire. The story has issues and the issues are in the scenes depicting Petit’s history. As the saying goes, less is more.
Even with its flaws, The Walk is a good film and certainly worth your time. The Walk is a very subtle yet effective tribute to the beauty of the Twin Towers. One could even argue that the 17-minute sequence was Zemicks’s love letter to the Towers. If I can take anything from this film it’s we can find beauty in the strangest of places, even in a film about a high-wire performer.