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The Walk - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Walk
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B+

Too few people know about the excellent 2008 documentary that chronicles the true story of Philippe Petit, the French man who walked a high wire cable between the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in 1974. It was called Man on Wire, and it's currently streaming on both Netflix and Amazon Prime. Go watch it, right now. I'll wait.


. . . Now, consider what I wrote in my review of the documentary: Watching it, it's easy to think the story would make a great movie. But the likelihood that a complete dramatization of the events would capture their almost otherworldly value the way this documentary does is slim.

And now, here we are. I wasn't wrong. Of Man on Wire, I also wrote that the excitement was palpable from the first frame, and although the climactic final act is indeed spectacular, the same cannot be said of The Walk. Instead, predictably, we get a movie that tries a little too hard to charm us from the beginning with Petit's background and history, from his time as a street performer in Paris to his amazing stunt in New York City. Director Robert Zemeckis even has Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as Petit, narrating the entire film from a perch atop the State of Liberty, the Twin Tower-dominated Lower Manhattan skyline serving as the backdrop. It's the single most cheesy thing about this movie, and it continues throughout.

And yet, Gordon-Levitt does win you over. I mean, if you're open to it. Some have scoffed at the thick French accent he adopts, but that never felt unnatural to me. This is a skilled actor who mostly disappears into this single-minded and obsessed character. He doesn't really look anything like the real-life Philippe Petit, but that doesn't matter. People around him keep calling Petit crazy, and they're basically right. Gordon-Levitt infuses him with a charm and enthusiasm that make you root for him.

The Walk is the kind of movie that works largely because it's a true story. If this were just another movie, it would be difficult to suspend disbelief; too many astonishing things occurred. You may even wonder if it was true that the arrow shot from the other roof to send the fishing wire across, to use to pass rope, actually landed on the ledge, nearly falling off before Petit snatched it. That really happened. In fact, some details are changed in this movie to make them more believable: Petit and his accomplices in this movie sneak past a sleeping security guard to get to the roof. In real life, the guard was sleeping with his eyes open.

The one thing The Walk has over Man on Wire, which is objectively better at telling this story, is the sequence where Petit finally does the walk itself. Until this point, The Walk is a fairy run-of-the mill, moderately corny, very Hollywood type of movie. Ben Kingsley even shows up as the circus patriarch who taught Petit everything he knows, on which a lot of time is spent, during which we care less and less. But, then Petit and his then-girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) finally get to New York, and they gather accomplices, and begin their plans and preparation. At this point, The Walk becomes a gripping movie filled with tension. The final outcome is well known, but seeing all their close calls and how they pulled it off is filled with effective suspense.

But then, when the walk is actually happening, The Walk is suddenly so breathtaking, it is truly a thing of beauty. The makers of this movie, as with the makers of Man on Wire, clearly are cognizant of the place the Twin Towers have in our modern hearts and minds, but neither movie gets at all heavy-handed about it. And watching that walk occur, with truly impressive and effective camera work by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (who, as it happens, also shot The Martian), it might just bring tears to your eyes. It did mine, anyway.

And it goes on a lot longer than you'd expect. Petit crosses between the building once, then goes back. And again. And again, once he's got police officers waiting for him on either side. At one point he just lays down on the wire between the buildings, some 1,300 feet above the ground, reveling in the moment. You can't blame him. It's a moment easy to revel in just watching the movie.

Plenty of people are saying The Walk is worth seeing in 3D, and I would hesitate against any such recommendation. The movie is plenty effective in traditional form; I'm generally not afraid of heights and I could barely look during that extended sequence. If you ever have even the slightest hesitation about heights, you'd best avoid any 3D screenings.

As opposed to the documentary, I would say The Walk really should be seen in a movie theatre. Just endure the slightly hokey tone of the storytelling. The high wire act that you go to see is absolutely worth the wait, bringing you right there with the delightfully nutso man who pulled it off.

the walk

Overall: B+
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