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Look, we all agree, Man on Wire is incredible. A Hollywood adaptation was never necessary. But The Walk is here, and that’s that.
Maybe that sounds bitter, but this film’s release is not a bad thing at all. How about this: The Walk has arrived, and it’s an outrageously likable crowd-pleaser. Here’s a love letter to the preposterousness of dreams that actually smiles its way out of the question of why anyone would tightrope across two 110-story buildings. The Walk is a considered and caring continuation of Robert Zemeckis’ body of work as a daring digital portfolio.
All in all, The Walk’s cinematic re-telling of the famed performance art/stunt of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit’s 1974 World Trade Center stunt is a sight to see.
Bonjour, Monsieur Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, never more rascally or charismatic). Petit is a street performer and a kid at heart. He’s Walter Mitty with a twinkle in his eye and the means to make good on magical envisioning. We open on Petit atop the Statue of Liberty’s torch orating to the audience with glee, like Gene Kelly or something. He wants to tell of his tightrope adventure from one World Trade Center tower to another. Petit chronicles his youth, his practice regimens, his love affairs, influences, and all the helpful and wacky people he’s met in his life.
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The whole narration rounds the picture as a slight but cute French joke by having Petit atop Lady Libby — the French’s iconic gift to America metaphorically speaks to Petit’s love of New York and art and architecture and even Americana. Petit’s story begins with him openly admitting that people always ask him why he did what he did. He never gives a straight answer, because the film prefers showing and not telling of his walk.
The Walk is a complete three-act piece. There’s Petit’s airy origins, as he sneaks into circuses as a child and learns the trade. Petit tells of what enraptured him with the World Trade Center, as he borderline lusts for the gleaming, shiny, now-gone spires in the sky. And of course, the last act is right there in the title. Petit’s evolution and the film’s hammy heist-like sensibilities are beyond fun. Zemeckis moves everything right along, wasting no time. The Walk is best and most easily enjoyed for its amusing characters, get-up-and-go pace, and clever computer-generated aesthetics (nifty forced perspectives through papers, seamless camera trickery — this list in particular could go on). The film is a three cheers kind of jaunt; vintage, loony, and at times heartfelt.
Peculiarly, the least captivating thing (though it’s still quite captivating) is the walk itself. The first two thirds of the film sprint with A-grade caper hijinks, purposed with the romantic ramblings of a charming mad man. Yet the highly visual, sentimental close sticks out and feels tonally ajar. The film is so fun and so surprising for a long time, the walk comes with all the accouterments of a Zemeckis spectacle. But still, in terms of craft, the walk itself is near perfect. As a point of comparison, look at Everest, another film concerned with extreme heights and atmosphere. That film could computer generate dizzying heights, but it didn’t always know where to go with the camera. Here, Zemeckis never misses. The camera swirls patiently, overhead, underneath, always in the right place. As if depicting a tightrope walk wasn’t an elevated enough experience, Zemeckis, the whiz, makes sure you feel every last sensation courtesy of computer generated wonder.
The Walk will deservedly earn its plaudits for its digital constructs and all around inventive, even marvelous images. That component feels like such an easy thing to take for granted, yet Zemeckis shows us new things even if you think you know the story already. Obviously, there are no World Trade Center towers anymore, and the idea of physically reconstructing lower Manhattan to look like the 1970s, well, to physically do that would be ludicrously difficult. But what sights there are to see here. The Walk is a flashy film that repeatedly justifies its existence, and even the inevitable 3D ticket prices.