2015, PG, 123 min. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine, César Domboy, Clément Sibony.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 2, 2015
Robert Zemeckis’ re-creation of a New York cityscape that no longer exists is dazzling, as is the vertiginous cinematography of Dariusz Wolski, yet The Walk never really answers the question: “Why?” Or as high-wire aerialist Philippe Petit (Gordon-Levitt, in a bad haircut and with a Hollywood French accent) puts it himself while narrating his story from atop the crown of the Statue of Liberty (another marvelous trompe l’oeil), “Pourquoi?”
Arguably, this movie about Petit’s legendary walk between the twin towers of the newly built World Trade Center in 1974 was rendered superfluous by James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary on the same subject: 2008’s Man on Wire. Apart from the stunning display of visual virtuosity and clenched-gut thrills for the audience, The Walk adds little new to the tale. Like Man on Wire, the most dramatically interesting material in the The Walk concerns the prodigious planning for the feat and the quick adjustments that had to be made as various aspects of the caper go awry. That Petit’s high-wire walk between the twin towers is a death-defying act is old news, as is its happy outcome. Petit tells us more about his childhood and early acquisition of his high-wire skills than the doc does, but these formative years back in France are easily the dullest and most expendable sections of The Walk.
In the post-9/11 era, there’s inevitably something miraculous and life-affirming about resurrecting the World Trade Center towers – even if only as a film illusion. By now, we’ve grown accustomed to the signature touch of Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump), who is one of the best creative minds to see the innovative narrative potential lying dormant in technical cinematographic advances. This does not always provide the underpinnings for great stories, but bien sûr his movies are almost always quite something to see.