by George Wolf
If you’ve seen Man on Wire, the Oscar-winning documentary from 2008, you may wonder if The Walk is even necessary (as if Hollywood cares). James Marsh’s look inside the legendary wire walk across the Twin Towers was as poetic as it was thrilling, and it left any other film on the subject a skyscraper-high hill to climb.
The Walk brings together director Robert Zemeckis, star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and some vertigo-inducing wizardry to give the story an newly polished sheen.
Gordon-Levitt is Philippe Petit, the effervescent Frenchman who pulled off the “artistic crime of the century.” In August of 1974, he successfully rigged a wire from the top of one tower to the other and walked across…and back..and back again.
The high whimsy count in the film’s first half could be expected from the director behind Forrest Gump, but it’s also a clear attempt to create a distinct identity for re-telling the tale. Zemeckis, who also co-wrote the script based on Petit’s book, has Gordon-Levitt in character atop the Statue of Liberty, scaling the “fourth wall” and narrating his journey from naive street performer to international sensation.
The overly fantastical narrative loses its charm pretty quickly, never approaching the emotional connection that drove Man on Wire. Gordon-Levitt, though, is a wonderful choice for Petit, with a performance good enough to make those unfamiliar with Petit’s tireless personality think the portrayal is over the top. No, that’s Petit.
The backstory does seems rushed, and when Petit’s team converges on the WTC to put the illegal scheme in motion, you’re not sure he’s earned the right to try it. But if Zemeckis is in a hurry to get Petit out on that wire, you quickly find out why, as questions about the film’s necessity are rebutted once the moment of truth arrives.
Man on Wire could only provide still photos from, as Petit calls it, “the coup,” but The Walk puts you there. Zemeckis and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Prometheus) unveil an array of truly wondrous visuals not for the faint of height. As with the recent Everest, this is a film meant to be seen in all its 3D IMAX eye-popping glory
Zemeckis saves any subtlety for where it counts the most, treating the memory of the WTC towers with a welcome, restrained dignity. That, coupled with the breathtaking recreation of a once-in-a-lifetime feat, makes The Walk a worthy trip.