“The Walk” is slightly caught up in its own efforts to be epic, but does so skillfully that as a viewer I also wanted to become caught up. It’s a story of one crazy person’s desire to do something crazy, but Robert Zemeckis’ vision and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s charm are just enough for all of us to want to be that crazy person.
The movie’s climax is the titular, famous tightrope walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center by French high-wire artist Philippe Petit. It’s a spectacular 20-minute experience that I’m still kicking myself for not seeing in Imax.
It’s where the movie comes together. The CGI is powerful but not overdone in giving us an acrophobe’s worst nightmare spectacular. Gordon-Levitt too shows care and strength in his physical acting, which is an epic performance in its own right.
The climax would not work with the same strength if it weren’t for the slow buildup. The first hour is tedious at times, really reminiscent of the heist preparation in a movie like “Ocean’s Eleven.” But the detail and intricacy are engrossing. The frustration makes the climax so much more satisfying and it’s time for the audience to put themselves behind Petit.
The main character is one that I almost want to hate but simply find myself unable to. The character Petit is smug, quixotic, self-aggrandizing and wields a French to deepen those same three traits, but Gordon-Levitt can sell him. The actor has the skills, commitment (he actually studied tightrope walking for the film) and enough unshakable likeability to bring the audience to his side.
The supporting cast shines as well. Petit’s got his motley crew of artists and organizers. Ben Kingsley is a perfect as the walker’s mentor Papa Rudy, the elder expert who has a fair bit of skepticism for some of the fiery protagonist’s ambitions.
The film is pulled from a true story, one that was already immortalized in 2008’s Oscar-winning documentary “Man on Wire.” It’s fascinating to take the two movies as a pair, and think about where the fictional and nonfictional renderings of the same source material conspire and contrast. Both are strengthened by heavy creative help from real-life Philippe Petit himself.
“The Walk” is an excellent movie. It’s more dramatized, of course, and sexier. It’s slightly more accessible, more directly visceral thanks to the CGI and creative might of Zemeckis and Gordon-Levitt.
“Man on Wire”, however, is ultimately more enduring and succinct. The heavy presence of fact and real-life footage help to make the climatic experience both more sobering and intoxicating than the fiction.
Try both movies. They’re worthy takes on a fascinating story.
Christopher McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.