This review originally appeared on Cinedelphia.com
The Walk should have been one of the best films of the year. It is an astonishing true story that features a stellar performance by Joseph Gordon Levitt, a talented supporting cast (particularly Sir Ben Kingsley), and perfectly employed visual effects under the deft direction of Robert Zemeckis, a filmmaker at the top of his form. And yet, with these pieces in place and the stakes dizzyingly high, The Walk is merely good, and that is mildly disappointing.
The film depicts the events leading up to the impossible feat of Phillipe Petit, a French tightrope walker who famously (and illegally) crossed the void between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Petit is a singularly focused individual; a true performer with a pure dream to one day execute the greatest tightrope walk the world has ever seen. We follow Petit’s rise as a street performer in Paris, his tightrope-walking apprenticeship under Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), his first illegal walk across the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the recruitment of his team to pull off the spectacle at the World Trade Center. This is all conveyed via flashback in a very Zemeckis-y, Forrest Gump-ian sort of way; that is to say, it’s a light, nostalgic romp through the highlights of Petit’s life.
These sequences are interesting solely because of Gordon Levitt, who goes all-in with his depiction of Petit. His physique, his accent, and his motivations are well-researched and rehearsed. JGL juggles, walks the rope, and performs several other acrobatic feats effortlessly; I never second-guessed his physical ability in the role. He also rounds out Petit with a childlike fascination and passion that is inherently likable so we actually care about the story preceding the titular event. It is not often that I lose sight of an actor in a role, and Gordon Levitt has done that here.
Unfortunately, the rest of the characters are not as well-rounded. Ben Kingsley is electric in the few scenes he appears in, but the rest of the cast is resigned to serving Petit’s story, including his love interest, Annie, played by Charlotte Le Bon. Though I bought that these characters are enamored enough by Petit’s passion to commit a felony, their personal motivations are never all that clear. And in a film that is presented as a heist story, streamlined character development blunts the audience’s investment in and reaction to the plan being pulled off, against all odds.
The walk itself is a true sight to behold. Not since Gravity has there been this much of a reason to see a movie in IMAX 3D. Zemeckis has long been a wizard with visual effects (see Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Polar Express, and countless others), but The Walk is a true achievement in experiential filmmaking. The audience is believably transported to the top of the iconic Towers with Petit, the camera flying around the void to give us a real sense of scope and the danger of the spectacle on display. People in my screening audibly gasped during top-down shots of the Towers, both in wonder at their size, but also in almost-disbelief that they are gone. Interestingly, The Walk also serves as quite the love letter to the World Trade Center. Zemeckis lingers on their majesty without a hint of sorrow and lets the audience project their own emotions onto the former existence of these buildings serving the backdrop of Petit’s passion project. It’s a brilliant and refreshing way to pay tribute.
The Walk is a good movie featuring stunning visual effects and an arresting performance by Joseph Gordon Levitt. It is not the sum of its parts and does not pack the punch that it should, but it is definitely worth seeing, especially in IMAX 3D.
8 out of 10.