It is a pure tribute to the filmmaking skills of Robert Zemeckis that The Walk works as well as it does. And boy, does it ever work. Considering that the story of French tightrope artist Philippe Petit’s daring 1974 walk on wire between the two then-not-quite-finished twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center has not only been documented in Petit’s own bestselling book but also in James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary Man On Wire, it is remarkable the level of suspense and genuine thrills that Zemeckis, at the top of his game, is able to cook up here. Throw in the fact that it has been only 14 years since the 9/11 attacks that took those towers down and you have a filmmaking challenge indeed.
But for me, The Walk is the most thrilling movie experience of the year, and it is probably one that could not even have been made with the technical virtuosity on display even five years ago. And as I say in my VIDEO REVIEW (click the link above), this is truly a film made for cinemas, one that must be seen in a theater for the full impact. In fact, I have never seen a film look better in the glory of Imax and 3D than this one.
Because the true story is so well known (the very French Petit never left New York and still lives upstate), it is no spoiler to say that he lived to tell the tale, but because no actual film footage of the real walk exists this is the first time we can actually feel like we are right up there with him. The film itself opens with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (as Petit) narrating his own story from the top of the Statue Of Liberty (where else since that was France’s gift to the U.S.) and its first 90 minutes or so plays like an Ocean’s Eleven-style caper movie. It’s fascinating to see Petit and his accomplices set this crazy feat in motion. If it weren’t all true, no one would ever buy it. But buy it we do, even Gordon-Levitt’s delightfully pronounced French accent which adds just the right amount of charm throughout.
But it is the final third of this film where Zemeckis (who with Christopher Browne also co-wrote the adaptation of Petit’s memoir To Reach The Clouds) again shows the dazzling level of magical filmmaking he has done throughout his career including his Oscar-winning Forrest Gump. Those scenes of the actual feat itself are breathtaking examples of the art of special effects married with great cinematography (by Dariusz Wolski) and a remarkably graceful and physically realistic turn by Gordon-Levitt who has never been better. The collective impact left me awestruck and renewed my faith in the wonder of movies — but for those with severe vertigo or extreme fear of heights just try to remember it is only a movie, and one with a rare PG rating for a live-action film that is for the entire family. It’s that increasingly rare pure movie entertainment for everyone. And ultimately, despite the thrills and visual marvels on screen, this is a very emotional human story with a touching coda for the towers themselves that seems just right.
In addition to Gordon-Levitt the fine cast includes Ben Kingsley as his mentor back in France, Charlotte LeBon as his girlfriend (although she is underused in the film) and James Badge Dale as a fast-talking New Yorker who helps him make the dream a reality. Producers of the TriStar presentation and ImageMovers production in association with LStar Captial are Zemeckis, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey. A big shoutout to visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie and his team too.
Sony is opening the film in a limited Imax 3D run of 440 screens starting tomorrow before going wide October 9. Do you plan to take The Walk? Let us know what you think.