Spectacle has always been an element of many different forms of art. In 1974, Philippe Petit displayed a beautiful act that ultimately popularized the Twin Towers in New York. By accomplishing a high-wire walk between these two buildings, he managed to make history. It must have been a magical experience to witness such an event in person, but this moment lives on through various forms of media. It was inevitable that this story would make it into a feature-length Hollywood studio project with a major star. It has taken on the title of The Walk, and it will be hitting theaters in various formats, including IMAX 3D.
Following Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) through various stages of his life, the film tells of a man's journey to achieve his dream. After traveling from France to New York, he must recruit a team of people to help him carry out the plan that would make his dream become a reality. Many called him insane, but he continues to insist that fate is what called him to walk the immense void between the World Trade Center towers on one incredible morning.
Anybody who goes to see this film will be paying money for the intense wire-walking sequence. However, it's meant to be about a lot more than that. Writer/director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne have the goal of telling his life story. Unfortunately, these portions of the feature simply aren't very captivating. An incredibly unnecessary framework is established with narration from Petit, which continues to interrupt nearly every significant moment in the plot. While it can be done gracefully in some films, it usually comes across as being a lazy way of telling a story. The Walk tells a very straight-forward story that should be given the space to speak for itself. Petit is an incredibly interesting person, but we don't need him explaining every emotion that he felt as he found his true calling as an artist.
The Walk is technically both a drama and a heist film. The first half tells us about the man behind the story, while the second half squeezes as much tension out of the act of pulling it off as possible. The dramatic material is executed in a way that's completely uninteresting, as Zemeckis and Browne quickly rush to the latter half of the plot. However, a lot of it feels incredibly drawn-out. It often seems as if the writers weren't even interested in their own subject, but continue to remind us that, "Hey, some crazy stuff is going to go down in the final act" with an absurd amount of foreshadowing. The audience knows what is to come, but the film should have taken more care in telling Petit's story.
Ultimately, the big climax is what will have people talking. If you're afraid of heights, then you're guaranteed to get your fair dose of vertigo in your seat. By the time the credits start rolling, your hands will be absolutely drenched in sweat. The Walk does a great job in delivering tension, fear, and paranoia within its final act. It feels as if we're up on the wire with him, making you want to grab onto the person next to you for support. It's unbelievably unsettling, as Petit places one foot in front of another over a seemingly impossible height. However, the narration once again disrupts a moment of pure tension and beauty, as it switches back and forth between the wire and a grounded Petit, explaining every emotion that he felt. It's unnecessary dialogue, and the sequence would have been even more nerve-wracking if we could have stayed with him on that wire for the entire duration of the scene without music or narration.
Despite the fact that Petit is French, The Walk predictably follows a well-known American actor. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a talented man, but his portrayal of Philippe Petit is far from his best work. My biggest issue is his accent. It sounds exaggerated and cartoonish, which instantly pulled me out of the dramatic elements of the story. Supporting performances by names such as Ben Kingsley and Charlotte Le Bon help in grounding the film a bit, but it all still feels like the filmmaker's priorities weren't in the right places.
Zemeckis might have disappointed with aspects of the screenplay, but his direction is almost entirely on point. The final climactic scene looks great, as we're forced to look down as Petit moves one foot in front of the other with what seems like an endless amount of distance between the wire and the ground of New York. The imagery is beautiful, yet absolutely terrifying. Zemeckis' direction heightens our senses during this sequence. There are some questionable moments of CG work, but otherwise, this is a good looking film. I'm sure that The Walk looks brilliant in IMAX 3D, even if only for the scale of it all, but I only had the chance to see a standard 3D screening. On a smaller screen, the 3D isn't very effective. There are some moments of depth, but the majority of the film looked fairly flat.
The final twenty minutes of The Walk are clearly the best thing about the film, but the rest of it is undeniably underwhelming. Screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne have created a mediocre depiction of Philippe Petit, as the dramatic elements transform into predictable Hollywood fare. After two hours, I don't feel any closer with Petit than I did from simply knowing the story. They only seem interested in the walk itself, making everything else around it seem less important, but endings are what audiences remember after leaving the cinema. If getting thrills from large heights is what you're looking to get out of it, then the final act will leave you satisfied, but you won't get a very good look into the mind of the man behind it all. The Walk is a disappointing biopic with an intense climax. Rent it.