Beyond the Actual Walk, Does THE WALK Matter? – Movie Review
Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between New York City’s Twin Towers in 1974 is one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime feats that carry with it a “Did you see that?” excitement years after the fact. It’s been chronicled in a best-selling book by Petit and the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. Petit’s story now gets the full cinematic treatment, courtesy of Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis.
Based on Petit’s book To Reach the Clouds, The Walk recounts the high-wire artist’s journey from performing on the streets of Paris, being mentored by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) on how to walk on a high-wire, to Petit travelling to New York and forming his crew of accomplices to help him walk the Twin Towers. Beyond a supporting turn from James Badge Dale, who literally improves everything he’s appeared in, none of this really matters.
There’s really only one reason to see The Walk, and that’s to see a dramatic recreation of Petit’s historic high-wire walk between the Twin Towers. Everything leading up to it is mostly filler. It’s entertaining filler for the most part, but it’s filler nonetheless. As Petit, Joseph Gordon-Levitt sports very blue eyes and a somewhat passable French accent, sitting atop the Statue of Liberty’s flame, Twin Towers shining in the background, explaining everything to the camera and sapping nearly every ounce of drama and tension from most of The Walk.
The good news is Petit’s walk, filmed in 3D, is jaw-dropping. Zemeckis is a master at creating cinematic experiences, and much like the plane crash in Flight, the director uses all of his skills to put the audience on a high-wire 1,700 feet in the air, delivering a thrilling, astounding experience.
A film about a high-wire artist walking back and forth between the Twin Towers can’t escape the shadow of 9/11, and The Walk does its best to not only pay tribute, but portray how Petit’s walk helped bring the buildings to life for the people of New York. The problem is Petit did a lot of “spy work” beforehand, donning disguises, figuring out how to sneak into both buildings and taking photos of everything to ensure he could make it to the towers’ roofs. The Walk tries to play off Petit’s prep as something out of a caper flick, but knowing what happens on 9/11 makes all the sneaking around feel more than a little creepy.
Viewing Petit’s walk in 3D (or IMAX 3D) is a dazzling, visual treat, but most people going to see The Walk are only interested in the actual walk, not everything leading up to it. A feeling of “hurry up and get to the walk” occasionally pops up, making Man on Wire the safer bet for anyone looking to know the full story.