“Whatever you do, don’t look down.” It’s good advice if you’re teetering on a wire 110 stories up in the air, but in his new film The Walk, director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away) not only ignores that advice but does everything possible to have audiences do the exact opposite. The entire last half-hour of the movie is a non-stop, vertigo-inducing (if you’re prone to it) thrill ride that shows people exactly what it’s like to see the world from that terrifying vantage point.
The Walk chronicles the real-life tale of Philippe Petit, who strung a wire between the roofs of the World Trade Center towers in 1974 and walked across. You can’t tell that story without first going through the background and build-up, though, and while the actual walk is as compelling and immensely satisfying as moviemaking gets, the film does take a while to get going.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Petit, who first caught the wire-walking bug when he went to the circus in his French youth. Always looking for his next great challenge, he happened to be reaching the height (pun intended) of his talent at the same time the towers were being completed. Voila, as he said, the coup was on.
From Petit’s early days training in Paris to his first major “stunt”–a walk between the towers of the Notre Dame cathedral–The Walk begins by taking audiences behind the scenes with varying degrees of effectiveness. Watching Petit get his start as a mime in the French streets is fun and charming, as is his wooing of fellow street performer Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), but at the same time it’s difficult to sit there through it all, when you know such a jaw-dropping finale is coming.
The screenplay, by Zemeckis and feature film novice Christopher Browne, rightly puts most of the attention on the actual walk, but the result is a set-up that feels only half-baked. And Zemeckis’ decision to have Gordon-Levitt narrate the entire story on-screen, from atop a CGI Statue of Liberty, is entirely too cutesy and ends up being more distracting than informative.
Once the main event arrives, however, The Walk redeems itself, particularly with the added benefit of 3D glasses. Zemeckis pulls off the impossible, and it’s reminiscent of James Cameron’s work in Titanic. Being able to virtually build the twin towers so seamlessly was essential to The Walk’s success, and there’s no doubt that audiences will feel the buildings have once again risen from the streets of downtown Manhattan. It’s a little eerie at times, sure, but then suddenly the action swoops right back up to the rooftop wire again, and audiences worried more about having to stare straight down from a height of 1,362 feet.
Anchored by yet another virtuoso performance by Gordon-Levitt and the best use of 3D perhaps ever, The Walk is a true spectacle to behold. It’s just a shame the entire movie couldn’t have taken place up on that wire.
Worth the 3D glasses?
If you don’t shrivel or panic at the idea of hanging by your toenails from 1,300 feet up in the air and then looking straight down… by all means, go for it. The Walk is perhaps the best use of 3D in a movie ever.