Synopsis: As a boy, Philippe Petit dreams of performing daring feats for dazzled crowds. As an adult (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his life’s ambition comes true when he becomes a high-wire artist who stares death in the face with every step. Under the guidance of mentor Papa Rudy, the daredevil devises a plan to walk on a tightrope attached to the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. With help from his team and against all odds, Petit attempts the seemingly impossible stunt on Aug. 7, 1974.
Release Date: September 30, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
In 2008, James Marsh released Man on Wire, a documentary about the life of Philippe Petit, a tight rope walker best known for crossing between the twin towers of the World Trade Center on only a thin piece of metal wire. The film offered audiences a glimpse into the life of a performer they likely knew very little about, and a feat that has more cultural significance now then it did back then. Man on Wire represents the documentary genre at its most prescient, shedding light on an incredible event and person.
Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk is a dramatized version of the events leading up to and including Petit’s infamous tightrope stunt, albeit with the added bonus of carefully placed cameras and CGI wizardry. Where the documentary offers an introduction to the man and his myth, The Walk tries its best to recreate, visually, what it must have been like to perform the stunt, while also fleshing out some of Petit’s home life.
There’s nothing wrong with Zemeckis’ direction, and the cast is exceptional all around. Joseph Gordon-Levitt imbues his Petit with the right amount of wide-eyed exuberance necessary to bring the man to life, and role players like Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, and Clement Sibony help ground such a larger-than-life character. The script is well written and the conversations feel authentic, if a bit serendipitous, and the music draws out the right amount of emotion.
So then why does The Walk feel like it’s missing the point? It’s hard to put a finger on it at first, but things become clear when you realize the film’s focus is a breathtaking event from history, one that was well-documented, or at least documented well enough for a non-fiction narrative film to be made. The only true purpose for The Walk existing is that it offers a clearer picture of the intangibles, the height and the depth that Petit faced while walking across that tightrope wire. It’s for that reason that The Walk works best in 3D, but only for those specific scenes. The way Zemeckis is able to portray the height is truly impressive, and will leave anyone with a slight sense of nausea. Obviously, all of the camera work has some element of special effects involved, but it’s no less breathtaking when the film peers out over the abyss and gives a detailed look at the New York City streets. It is in those moments that The Walk feels important; that it has purpose. It’s just a shame the rest of the film doesn’t have that seem feeling.
Perhaps it was bad timing or maybe it’s simply the by-the-numbers nature of the biopic, but The Walk loses a lot of its appeal when held against the real thing. Everyone does a stellar job of bringing a truly extraordinary story to life, both cast and crew, but a well-made biopic can only get you so far. If it weren’t for those tremendous wire walking scenes then The Walk might have been a complete wash. As it stands, the film will do nicely as a complement to Man on Wire.
Robert Zemeckis (Flight, A Christmas Carol) has always been a director known for sharp visuals and clean effects work. He always wants to deliver beautiful pictures, but avoids calling attention to CGI. No doubt, you realize there’s no way the scenery is real in The Walk, but the FX are so strong that you soon forget that fact. And by the time Joseph Gordon-Levitt steps out onto the wire as Petit, it’s hard to not feel your stomach rise into your throat. The visuals during the wire-walking scene are well worth the extra price for the 3D.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Robert Zemeckis
- Screenwriter(s): Robert ZemeckisChristopher Browne
- Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Philippe Petit)Ben Kingsley (Papa Rudy)Charlotte Le Bon (Annie) Clement Sibony (Jean-Louis)
- Editor(s): Jeremiah O’Driscoll
- Cinematographer: Dariusz Wolski
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Alan Silvestri
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA