Cinematic Releases: The Walk

Mike walks a fine line with his review of The Walk.

"It's a bird! It's a plane! Nawwww,
It's just some crazy dude on a wire!"
The terrific 2008 documentary Man On Wire tells the story of French wire walker Philippe Petit, and how he was able to walk across a wire spanning between the twin towers of the newly-built World Trade Center in 1974.  (This is not a spoiler, as Petit appears in the documentary.)  The story is a fascinating one, full of the kind of tension and setbacks and sneaky activity that define a great heist film.  Though it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the one thing the audience never got to see is actual filmed footage of Petit on the wire. Thanks to director Robert Zemeckis, who knows a thing or two about Hollywood magic, we finally (sort of) get to experience Petit's walk in the new film The Walk.

If you've seen Man On Wire, there is nothing new story-wise, as the story is literally translated from both the documentary and Petit's memoirs.  But those new to the story will get a interpretation that, while completely true, is a fairly conventional Hollywood heist movie.  Granted, it's a pretty good one.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is charming and engaging as Petit, and even though the narrative device used gets a bit trite at times he's always likable, keeping the audience rooting for him.  Petit's accomplices walk a fine line of their own at times between being entertaining comic relief and just slightly irritating.  They ultimately succeed in keeping things light in what would otherwise be a tense movie.

Despite the performances of Gordon-Levitt and his supporting cast, the real star of The Walk is the breathtaking special effects.  The Twin Towers themselves are awesome, flawlessly recreated so realistically that the viewer would swear they still stood.  A big part of what brings this virtual WTC to life on screen is the brilliant use of 3D.  This is Zemeckis's first live action 3D film (he previously directed fully animated films in the format), and he hits it out of the park.  At ground level the towers are foreboding monoliths, reminding us of the danger awaiting Petit above the 110th floor.  The effect is truly magical when Petit is on the wire.  The audience can't help but feel like they're on the wire with Petit, feeling the same nervous feeling in the pit of their stomach as they look 110 stories straight down, or at the dazzling New York skyline from high above it.  The Walk was designed from the ground up to be seen in IMAX 3D, and it would be hard to imagine the film having the same effect if seen in any other format.

"Dannnnnngg. I'm sooooooo high!"
The Walk is a story that has literally been told before, both as a by-the-numbers heist movie and an actual true story.  In this aspect, nothing new is brought to the table.  But even those familiar with Petit's story will be awed by its presentation here, aided by quite possibly the best use of 3D since Avatar.  The Walk's ace in the hole is spectacle, which it uses to dazzling effect.  If you're only interested in hearing Petit tell his incredible story without the bells and whistles, stay home and watch Man On Wire on Netflix.  But if you're looking for the kind of big screen spectacle that can't be recreated in your living room, and you're willing to overlook the occasionally formulaic tropes, this is a Walk worth taking.


-Mike Stec

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