The Walk

Utterly terrifying and Zen-like at the same time.
★★★
Movie Review #1,027

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TriStar Pictures
Adventure, Biography, Drama
2 hours, 3 minutes
Rated PG (thematic elements involving perilous situations, and for some nudity, language, brief drug references and smoking)
Released October 9, 2015
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Robert Zebecks & Christopher Browne
From the book “To Reach the Clouds” by Philippe Petit
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Guillaume Baillargeon, and Soleyman Pierini

“The Walk” is practically the cinematic equivalent to an oxymoron. It’s deep, intense, mature, and terrifying, but at the same time, it’s buoyant, uplifting, wholesome, and peaceful. Director Robert Zemeckis’s most memorable films are those that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age. Curious, he’s made this sort of film in the middle of every decade since the ’80s: “Back to the Future” in 1985, “Forrest Gump” in 1994, “The Polar Express” in 2004, and now “The Walk” in 2015.

Zemeckis captures the essence of the true story on which “The Walk” is based. Our subject is Philippe Petit, marvelously and charismatically portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Petit became a sensation in the 1970s when he staged his “coup”–that is, walking on a high-wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. It wasn’t just the walking that captured audiences, though; it was everything else he did on the high-wire. Lying down on the wire, walking backward on it, and more. This is a man who is not afraid of death when he walks the wire, because to him, this is life. It’s because of this that when we finally see Petit walk the high-wire, the experience is as Zen-like and cathartic as it is terrifying. We connect with our own instinct that the moment he steps on the high-wire, he is risking death. But we also identify with Petit, who feels that once the steps on the wire, the worst is behind him.

And the worst, to him, is the fear of getting caught. The midsection of the film covers Petit’s move to New York City to set up for the coup. It’s this much of the film that is most flawed. True, there are some tense moments here–most especially when Petit and an acrophobic accomplice hide in an elevator shaft, so as to avoid being noticed by the security guards patrolling the top floor of the World Trade Center. But these moments are far and few during this third of the film. In fact, “The Walk” often oversimplifies the difficulty Petit more than likely faced in reaching his goal. While shopping for a radio at a Big Apple electronics store, Petit and his guys are speaking to each other in French. They drop the word “accomplice,” and that catches the attention of the employee working the counter. It just so happens that he knows French, that he is French, and that he wants to join Petit’s group of accomplices. In an earlier scene, Petit shows his briefcase full of wire-walking equipment to a customs agent, explaining that he is going to string a high-wire between the towers and walk on it. The officer simply laughs and says, “Good luck.” I am reminded of a scene in “Airplane 2: The Sequel”, where a group of Middle Easterners carry large assault rifles through a metal detector and manage to not set it off; moments later, an old lady with some sort of metal in her purse sets the detector off and is violently patted down.

Flawed as it may be, “The Walk” is a great movie and deserves to be seen. Maybe the greatest thing about it is its cinematography. This is not a movie you watch on DVD, and it’s not one you watch on Blu-ray unless your TV is at least as tall as you are. As someone who fears nothing more than heights, I nearly vomited at the IMAX 3D showing, which I dared myself to go to. I was writhing, wincing, and peering at the screen through the gaps between my fingers, so much that I swear the old couple behind me thought I was having a seizure. I could have easily walked out (no pun intended), but I didn’t. It’s the epic cinematography that gives you the sensation of being there, and at the same time, keeps you watching at all costs.

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