So, in The Walk (horrid title, by the way), Zemeckis dramatizes the story told in acclaimed documentary Man on Wire, that of Philippe Petit and his quest to string a high-wire between the World Trade Center towers and walk across it. I haven’t seen the documentary, though it’s been on my list for a while now. Regardless, this film succeeds as a grand entertainment. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a great lead, charismatic as ever, charismatic enough, in fact, that we just kind of forget his French accent and sink into the movie, which is about the best you can hope for in a case like this. The story of his training is given a fair amount of time and it doesn’t drag. But the film really kicks off once Petit and his crew arrive in America; the film is essentially a heist movie for quite a while as the team cases the Towers, figures out how to pull off this very illegal stunt and then works to do it. A nail-biting sequence involving an empty elevator shaft, a staircase to the roof and a meandering security guard is pure Hitchcockian brilliance. But, of course, the money sequence is the tightrope walk itself and it’s so money. It’s really incredibly suspenseful. Even though you know how it ends in your head, you can’t keep your heart from hammering like mad. It’s gorgeously and inventively shot from start to finish really, but it’s in that final sequence, which goes on for quite a long time, that it really pays off. The one issue I had with the film was that it was really nothing more than a grand entertainment; it fails to get to the thing that I find really compelling, ie. The psychology that would drive Petit to do something this insane. The film has no interest in that and, being based on Petit’s own book, it’s a bit overly lionizing of him. I feel like there’s a darker side to the character and the psychology that the film didn’t delve into at all; there is one solid scene the night before the big job between Petit and his girlfriend and it’s a nice feint in that direction, but I sense a more complicated, more ambiguous film in this story, a movie that manages both awe at Petit’s achievement and a certain level of ambiguity at just how heroically we should view someone this crazy. It’s hard to say whether that film would be better or just very different. And this film is wittily scripted so that Petit himself charmingly narrates it to us, so the film is upfront about the fact that this is Petit’s version of Petit’s story. I’d like to see that other version of this story, but I also loved this film, found it entertaining from start to finish really. Petit tells us flat out; it’s all about the entertainment. And in that arena, this film succeeds perfectly. 4 stars.
tl;dr – film about high-wire artist and his most dangerous walk is somewhat facile in its treatment of its subject, but it’s also gorgeously shot, unbearably suspenseful and constantly entertaining. 4 stars.