The story of French tight-rope walker Philippe Petit’s mind-blowing stunt of walking between the World Trade Center towers had already been told in 2008’s Oscar winning documentary “Man On Wire”. The documentary is a masterpiece and one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, so the idea of a narrative version of the story had me a bit hesitant, as it is completely unnecessary. But, with technical master Robert Zemeckis behind the camera and the fact he made the film IMAX 3D, I was immediately intrigued. And while it isn’t a great movie, “The Walk” is still an entertaining visual feat, capped off with one of the best scenes of 2015.
Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a street performer in Paris, doing magic tricks on his uni-cycle and tight roping from light pole to light pole. After a freak accident that lands Petit at the dentist, he sees an image of the unfinished World Trade Center in a magazine and believes that it is fate that he uses those buildings as his biggest stunt ever on the biggest stage in the world. He recruits a team, both from Paris as well as from New York, to help execute the plan. As the set date lingers closer, the plan and Petit’s mental state become a little shaky. But, his determination and questionable madness bring him to the top of the towers, where he would execute the greatest act the world has ever seen.
Don’t be stingy when it comes to this movie. Pay the extra money and see it in IMAX 3D. It is well worth the extra few bucks. I’m hit and miss when it comes to 3D, but Zemeckis, who is known to push technical boundaries, does an amazing job using the 3D to enhance the story instead of as a gimmick. I don’t have a fear of heights or vertigo, but the final walk between the Twin Towers had my heart racing and my palms sweating, and I knew what was going to happen. Zemeckis perfectly captures the magnitude of the walk using the 3D, along with giving us some cool, head dodging scenes where something looks like it is coming right at you. This is easily one of the best 3D films I’ve ever been a part of.
With all the wonderful spectacle going on in this film, I wish the narrative was just as impressive. The film is essentially the fanciest reenactment of “Man on Wire”. We don’t learn anything new in this film. The only thing different is we see more of the final walk. The film also has an uneven tone and rushed pace. In only a couple scenes, Petit goes from walking across two 10 foot light poles to getting ready for the Twin Towers. The film also starts off as this Disney-feeling underdog story and then turns into more of a heist movie. These don’t necessarily ruin the film, but the inconsistencies make it feel erratic.
The biggest flaw of the film is that the whole movie is being narrated by Gordon-Levitt as Petit, almost making it feel documentary-ish. I have a couple issues with this. My first being that because they already made a documentary about this monumental achievement, I don’t see why they would go this route. They should have gone for a straight forward narrative so that it can differentiate itself from the documentary and be more effective. My second issue is that I feel it almost insults Gordon-Levitt’s acting talents. Petit’s voiceover tells us every emotion that he is feeling during specific scenes. This should have been Gordon-Levitt’s job to convey these emotions. I don’t need a voiceover telling me every emotion a character feels. That’s the actor’s job and Gordon-Levitt is talented enough to do it. Gordon-Levitt is very good in this film, but I did not need his voiceover explaining his every move.
Narrative issues aside, “The Walk” is cinematic entertainment at its best. It is a heart-racing, vertigo inducing thrill ride that will leave you breathless. The final walk is one of the very best scenes of the year. Is this Robert Zemeckis best film? No. But it shows that he is one of the best directors in the game today and continuously pushes the boundaries of cinema.
Also, if you have not seen “Man on Wire”, do that immediately.
MY RATING – 3/4
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Image courtesy of YouTube via Zero Media.