Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, Clément Sibony, César Domboy, Steve Valentine, James Badge Dale
Everyone loves the classic story of a man chasing his dream. The Walk is the epitome of this tale-as-old-as time, and it certainly will satisfy every viewer’s much-needed inspirational fix by recounting the true story of Phillipe Petit and his grand feat of crossing between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on a high wire. As usual, Joseph Gordon-Levitt kills it as the protagonist of this film, and is accompanied by some notable supporting actors. Although nearly every viewer who sees The Walk knows the outcome, Robert Zemeckis still manages to create an exciting and visually beautiful film.
The Walk, a true story set in 1973, features Frenchman Phillipe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who recounts the tale of how he came to love tight-rope walking. Soon after he picks up the talent, Phillipe is swayed by a picture of the Twin Towers, and realizes his dream of crossing between the two on a high wire. And thus, Phillipe begins his planning for “the coup” as he calls it and sets out to make his dream a reality, initially aided by his paramour, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), and a photographer named Jean-Louis (Clémont Sibomy).
The Achilles’ heel of many films, especially biographical dramas, is the idealization of the protagonist. Sure, he or she will have a tiny flaw that they have to learn a lesson about, but’s that the extent of the character’s normality. Fortunately, The Walk manages to evade this pitfall. Rather, Zemeckis almost emphasizes Phillipe’s arrogance and egotism, and at times Phillipe is a very unlikeable character. But, at the end of the day, Phillipe is human, and the misgivings of his personality make him feel more relatable for audience members.
As those who know me are well aware, I am a huge fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and his performance in this film has left me a satisfied and proud aficionado. JGL simply becomes Phillipe, bringing out the character’s conceitedness and determination while keeping him charming as well. Sporting an impressive French accent, he turns Phillipe’s infatuation with American culture and eagerness to assimilate into a source of amusement for the audience – it’s hard not to crack a grin every time he says “the coup” in his thick French accent. Phillipe’s accomplices are also well-played, and well-written as well; the characters all have a memorable flair to them. In particular, Barry Greenhouse (Steve Valentine) stands out, with his deceivingly sinister moustache, and César Domboy makes it easy to fall in love with Jeff, the accomplice who suffers a devastating fear of heights. The fascinating ensemble is quite captivating, and this certainly factors into the film’s overall watchability.
The film’s production was done quite meticulously, and Zemeckis’ effort shows. Before filming, JGL had no experience walking a high wire – so the real Phillipe Petit gave him personal training. From the looks of the film, he picked it up pretty well. The big walk scene was filmed with reconstructed models of the towers (which were about 12 feet high), but a stunt double was still used. Fortunately, the editing and cinematography are both gorgeously done, and the use of a double goes unnoticed. The shots (especially during the final scenes) are breathtaking, with tasteful camera angles used. Zemeckis really uses his resources to convey the magic of the event to the viewers.
Unfortunately, there’s one major flaw in The Walk that just cannot be ignored: the unnatural narration. First person narration can be a very good thing; but the style in this case makes the device bothersome. The camera often cuts away from a scene to show Phillipe, standing atop a skyscraper in NYC with the World Trade Center in the background, narrating the events that require no comment. Each time this happens, it feels like a rude interruption in the story. Had this been left out of the film, it would have been virtually flawless for me.
The overall theme of The Walk (follow your dreams…etc) is quite campy, but it doesn’t feel that way. Zemeckis manages to dodge any descent into corniness, and once the credits roll, the viewer walks away feeling uplifted.
Bottom Line: The Walk is a must-see film for audiences young and old alike.