Movie Review: ‘THE WALK’ Balances Stunning Visuals With Great Drama

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

THE WALK | 123 min | PG
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley and James Badge Dale

I wouldn’t say that I have a fear or phobia of specific things, but a fear of going against logic. An example would be the ocean, a giant bath of unexpected that has yet to be fully realized. Do I have a fear of the ocean? No. Do I have a fear of the unknown that lies beneath the surface of the ocean? Yes. I respect the boundaries of the ocean as I salute from the safety of the shore. All fears are subjective, of course, I’m just stating an example to lead up to what I was thinking as I watched Robert Zemekis’ THE WALK. What was I thinking? That Philippe Petit is certifiable.

If you don’t know the history by now, I won’t go into too much detail. I will just say that on August 7, 1974, a French high-wire artist named Philippe Petit connected a steel cable from one corner of the North Tower to one corner of the South Tower at the World Trade Center. His goal? To walk it like a tightrope without any safety features. It was a more daring feat due to the fact that the Twin Towers were newly built and barely open to the public. What would possess a man to commit such acts of foolishness? Most people would call it brave, but it’s not brave when you put yourself in a situation for your own personal gain. I can’t really empathize with someone who I feel is so stubborn to defy logic– or so I thought.

From the opening frames of THE WALK, it’s incredibly hard not to be charmed by Philippe, charismatically portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. We are introduced to him as our narrator, and tells the story with light-hearted flair. The narrative itself is not about Petit, but rather the obsession of Petit. For most of the set-up to his grandiose stunt, he justifies everything by the wire, or looking for “a place to hang my wire.” The story reaches into the past to note how a flicker of interest turned into a flame of passion, all due to watching a high-wire act at the circus.

The story flows through the high points in order to set up the third act, which is the Twin Towers stunt. We see him be trained by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), learning how to further secure the wire and hone his craft. He lets us in on his chance encounter with Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who becomes his paramour as well as his enabler. Along the way, they enlist the rest of their team that include a photographer (Clement Sibony), a math teacher (Cesar Domboy), and a few Americans to help them set up the stunt, including an employee at the WTC (Steve Valentine) and a pawn shop owner (James Badge Dale).

Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in TriStar Pictures' THE WALK.

Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in TriStar Pictures’ THE WALK.

Zemekis does a great job in navigating the story. It’s hard to accomplish tension in the viewer, especially with regard to actual events that can be easily Googled to know the outcome. The camera is in constant motion, with minimal cuts to accentuate the moments but give the impression of memory as well. Also, he and his co-writer Christopher Browne use subtle notes to plant doubt in the viewer, such as an injury or falling behind schedule. The tone of the movie is so light-hearted that it creates a juxtaposition to the fact that he is trying to defy death. Philippe constantly refers to it as a “coup” and his friends as “accomplices”, as if they’re role playing a murder mystery. So, once the third act hits, we realize that the time for play is over as we gaze 110 stories down.

It can be said that there is no real substance to any of the supporting characters, apart from Papa Rudy and Annie. But it’s only because that’s what Philippe chooses to do. He is telling the audience his story of how he pulled off one of the greatest stunts in history. As he is the narrator, we are only privy to his interpretation. There can be a disconnect as the narrative moves briskly along, glossing over the supporting characters, but this story doesn’t concern them. It is called THE WALK because everything that happens within the frame concerns the WTC wire walk; everything, and everyone, else can be regarded as stepping stones. However, Philippe keeps himself a mystery as well, and that can be distracting in the slower parts of the film. My view of Philippe ranged from artist to egotist because he has a one-track mind.

Regardless, the whole film is a fantastic sight to behold. I wasn’t alive to see Philippe on his wire, but this recreation gave me the feel of a spectator watching from the street below. This movie begs to be seen in the IMAX 3D format, as the depth represents a villainy all its own. By the final shot, as Philippe says his last words, we realize that this wasn’t just a story, but a love letter, a remembrance of better days. And, to quote Charles Lindbergh, love needs no logic for its mission.

THE WALK is out in IMAX 3D today, and rolls out nationwide on Oct. 9th.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.