The Walk is based on the true story, which was previously told in documentary form with Man On Wire, of Philippe Petit’s wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974. So if you’ve seen the documentary version, or know anything about the story, there is a sense going into The Walk that you aren’t going to be that riveted from a narrative perspective. And while that is often true of the film Robert Zemeckis has a few cunning tricks up his sleeve.
Starting out as a young street performer in France Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) soon finds a passion and determination to become a world famous wire walker. With the help of mentor Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) he achieves a degree of notoriety by walking between the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral. But it’s not enough so when he sees an image of the soon to be complete World Trade Center Twin Towers he knows this will become his next goal.
But in order to achieve this goal he will have to break a few laws and sets about figuring out how he will get past security, rig his wires and then perform his walk. Along for the ride is girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and a collection of friends all of them determined to help Philippe execute his “coup”.
Part of The Walk’s biggest issue is that Petit is not the most likeable character. There is a sense of self-importance to what he’s doing. Yes, he’s self centered, yes he’s determined but once he arrives in New York there is little to really hang your heart on. At one point he turns to Annie and tells her that he couldn’t have done any of it without her. But up to that point we’ve seen no such thing. It feels shoehorned in an attempt to make him redeemable but it’s nearly too little too late.
Where The Walk does succeed is in portraying the staggering feat itself. Zemeckis is no stranger to dazzling us with a perfect combination of special effects and visual flair and here is no exception. It’s the final act that elevates the film to something genuinely breathtaking. Zemeckis perfectly captures the size, scope and vertigo of the situation, putting Petit on the wire and us on the edge of our seats. Even if you know the ultimate outcome it’s amazing how it still manages to have you holding your breath in anticipation.
While there are various cast members due to the nature of the story only Gordon Levitt feels in any way relevant. Despite his slightly dodgy accent and his look that looks at times CGI-ed he holds everything together with his natural charisma and manages to mute Petit’s obvious arrogance.
At times, like its lead character, The Walk feels a little too pleased with itself but come the grand finale it just about keeps its balance.