If you’re looking see a film where Philippe Petit’s historic tightrope walk between the two World Trade Center towers in New York City is meticulously depicted, then the Robert Zemeckis’ helmed The Walk is the movie for you. If you’re looking for a film with an adequate amount of character development and recognition of motivations, well, you may want to pass on this one. I suspect, however, that the key demographic for this film will opt for spectacle over substance.
The Walk is indeed a marvel to behold. The recreation of Philippe Petit’s walk way up high between the twin towers is so realistic and richly detailed that it’s hard to believe the film is a product of CGI effects. Petit, portrayed by the immensely talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is an interesting character. His unwavering dedication to accomplishing ‘the coup’ (as he and his accomplices call it) is relentless and, to a certain extent, inspiring. From the subtle details of the inflection of his french-accented voice to the animated hand motions that accompany his screen time, Gordon-Levitt literally embodies a man whose only apparent goal in life is to achieve a feat that not only is incredibly dangerous, but would be history making.
The film itself is beautiful and epic in size. The first half of the film is set in Paris, with the city being depicted as full of whimsy and joy. Zemeckis is careful, however, not to depict the City of Lights as too cartoony or artificial. Instead, he uses the scenery of the beautiful architecture that defines the city as a vast difference to his presentation of New York City in the second half of the film. It’s a clear commentary on the opposition between the established history of France to the budding history of New York, especially in terms of construction and development.
Technically, the film is truly a spectacle. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski of Prometheus and, more recently, The Martian, spares no expense in richly detailing an era in history where societal norms and ideals are being upended. The viewer feels as though they have travelled in time to the ‘anything goes’ mindset of the 1970’s, thus making this controversial walk Petit wishes to complete not so unbelievable. Of particular glory is the actual imagery and scenes where Petit is walking between the towers. His consternation and confidence is riveting, the scenery at once both realistic and otherworldly. It’s truly a site to see.
The supporting characters in the film fell a bit flat for me. The beautiful Annie, played by Charlotte LeBon, Petit’s girlfriend, really isn’t given much to do on-screen aside from supporting Petit on ‘the coup’. We don’t learn much about why she is so dedicated to Petit, and why she is so willing to leave everything behind in Paris to see her boyfriend achieve this feat. The other members of the team assisting Petit on his walk are slightly one-dimensional as well. They unwaveringly support Petit, but it’s never really explained why. Are they all in love with him? Are they all inspired by Petit’s tenacity and focus? We’ll never know.
Ben Kingsley shines, as expected, in his supporting role as the man who trains Petit to become the tight rope walker he becomes. Speaking with an indeterminate accent, Kingsley subtly acts as a father figure to Petit, opting not to withhold his honesty and feedback in hopes of making Petit a better, stronger man. The chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Kingsley is believable. I hope they act together again.
The soundtrack for the film is rather quite captivating as well. It almost plays out as a 60’s inspired, “Mission: Impossible” esque accompaniment to the intrigue and journey-driven formula of the movie. Well done.
All in all, The Walk is a definite must see. What lacks in substance is definitely a great style that will undoubtedly engage the viewer from beginning to end. Though bumpy at times, The Walk is a feat in film making.