The Walk finds Robert Zemeckis fighting against the superior documentary on the same subject, Man on Wire, but his realization of the titular walk is worth the price of admission.
Philippe Petit is quite the personality, and you have to be if you are crazy enough to try to tightrope walk between the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. That is exactly what Petit did and that wasn’t even the craziest part of the experience; for him, one walk wasn’t enough. Zemeckis’ film captures the insanity of this moment and the personality of the man doing it perfectly (outside one wonky wide effects shot) once you get up on top of those towers. Up until those moments, I’m not sure how well the film worked for me.
Now, full disclosure, I wasn’t watching this film with the clearest eyes possible. I was a big fan of the aforementioned documentary, Man on Wire, and I quickly found myself fact checking this film against my memory of that one. That isn’t that fair to The Walk, a film I enjoyed, but I couldn’t help but grumble to myself thinking Zemeckis and his script was laying on the false drama for the sake of drama. Then, after the screening, I looked over one of those handy fact checking articles you get with “true stories” and it turns out the film was a lot more accurate than I was giving it credit for. Still, the fact that I wasn’t swept up in the movie certainly says something about the film itself. I was fine with all the actors and the film moves along well enough, but I always felt a bit disconnected from everything.
Zemeckis is often a great director, but here you often feel the effects work instead of the story a lot of the time; outside the finale. On his last film, Flight, Zemeckis mostly reigned in the effects stuff and focused on the characters and story, but we feel like we never really get to know anyone in The Walk. Petit is always talking to us through almost every scene in the film, so we do get to know him pretty well, but everyone else that joins his coup feel like a cog in the machine.
The closest thing to an exception to that rule is Petit’s girlfriend, Annie, but I think that has more to do with immense likability of Charlotte Le Bon. Le Bon is irresistible in the role, which really makes you wish she had more to do in the part beyond moral support. The other bright spot in the cast is James Badge Dale as a French American member of the coup, but when has James Badge Dale not made a movie better. Why isn’t this guy a star? (Bring back Rubicon!)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also solid as usual in the lead role as Petit, but it is during the finale that he really gets to shine. Everything comes together for that tight wire act, especially Levitt as Petit, who gets to show off every bit of personality that makes the real life artist so compelling. I wish the rest of the film felt as authentic as Petit and the film and a little less hookie.
The Walk is solid entertainment, with a finale that is capable of wowing. Zemeckis’ filmmaking prowess shines through in the recreation of that incredible and insane morning above the Twin Towers, but I can’t help but wish the whole film felt as strong as that extended sequence. Still, a fine companion piece to Man on Wire, a double feature of the two should give you a pretty great portrait of a man who pulled off an impossible feat.