Movie Review: The Walk

The Walk manages to balance fact-based drama with entertainment thanks to endearing performances, deft film direction, and spectacular cinematography, but its marred by self-indulgent trumpeting.

Twelve people have walked on the moon, but only one man has ever, or will ever, walk in the immense void between the World Trade Center towers. Guided by his real-life mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), and aided by an unlikely band of international recruits, Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his gang overcome long odds, betrayals, dissension and countless close calls to conceive and execute their mad plan.

The Walk is the Hollywoodized version of “Man on Wire”.

The story is light and linear but it’s balanced with drama based on a true story. The nitty-gritty details of pulling off the high wire feat is taken out and replaced by heist themed set-up, but still manages to be an entertaining prologue to a spectacular third act.

The walk is made in a sound stage against a green screen, but cinematography compensates for the obvious CGI. In one scene, the French artist draws a line connecting the Twin Towers, but the shot is from behind the newspaper image. When the moment finally comes for him to cross the Twin Towers, the walk is equal parts mesmerizing and thrilling. The movie never loses sight of Philippe as he balances on a wire without a safety line but also makes sure that the 1,350 feet drop is always present through framing and sound design. You can see the sprawl of a concrete jungle, feel the wind past his hair, and hear the echoes of a city from below. In 3D, you become visually and physically aware that he’s basically walking through a void held by an improvised cable set-up.

The cast does a good job in filling the screen with endearing characters. People will inevitably have issues with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Pepe Le Pew accent, but he turns in an earnest performance. James Badge Dale steals every scene he’s in as the fast talking salesman.

While the movie benefits from its fact-based source material, it would inevitably be marred by the Hollywoodized version of events. It’s understandable that the plot development would be sped up, but the narrative doesn’t offer any insight on why high-wire is an art, making Philippe a crazy yet harmless narcissist. Like him, the movie too loves to honk its own horn in every scene.

Narration does have its place in a movie, but Philippe (using the statue of liberty as a comical soapbox) tells every minute detail that the movie ends up dictating what the audience should feel, when they can figure it out for themselves. The movie should have let the story speak for itself, delving into the French artist’s psyche and showing why we should consider this guy an artist in his own right.

While JGL is good enough, the movie leaves you to wonder why they didn’t just cast a French actor. If it weren’t for the well executed plot, his quasi transformation would have been distracting.

Nonetheless, The Walk excels in what its meant to do. The movie reaches its full potential in the third act when Philippe finally walks the walk. Even if you know that he’ll make it, the whole sequence is still intense and wonderful to watch, a feat for a movie that doesn’t need to rely on explosive action.

More importantly, The Walk is not just a homage to a phenomenal high wire act that may never be duplicated again, its a tribute to people who are courageous enough to turn their impractical dreams to reality and a brighter image of the Twin Towers post 9/11.

If you want to watch a historical moment in a neatly packaged well funded movie that looks spectacular on the small and big screen, The Walk is one of your best bets for easy viewing. Otherwise, the Man on Wire would suffice for those who want an in depth documentary.

My Rating: 7/10

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