NYFF 2015: The Walk
Be warned: The Walk may trigger latent cases of acrophobia. This thrilling, spine-tingling adventure portrays Phillippe Petit’s daring high-wire walk between the Twin Towers, as previously depicted in James Marsch’s Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) unleashes the full might of his CGI prowess into recreating the skyline of 1970s New York City, as well as placing his affable cast atop the North and South Towers. The vividness of those visuals don’t completely mask The Walk‘s staid script or one-note characterizations, but in spite of its flaws, Zemeckis’ latest is a fun, suspenseful experience.
Chronicling Petit’s journey from aspirational French performance artist to the determined obsessive he becomes, The Walk plows through story beats in thinly constructed short scenes. These early moments, featuring excessive step-by-step narration from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit (presumably doing his best Pepe Le Pew impression), are far duller than what will follow. Zemeckis’ talent for visual flair occasionally transforms the mundanity of an origins story into showcase set pieces. As a young Petit walks across a series of ropes tied between trees, those ropes break off one by one and fall away until Zemeckis’ camera pans up to reveal Petit as a man.
It’s in the final sequences, leading up to and on the rooftop, where The Walk begins to soar. Petit and his gang’s ascent up the towers resembles a heist movie. Complimented by the tapping of bongos and jazzy brass instruments, the crew don disguises and persuade guards in order to reach the building’s 110th floor. Watching the tightrope walker take his first steps out into the open air, swooping around in full circles to reveal the breathtaking views of New York, it’s hard to not simply marvel at the creation. You worry that Petit might fall—even with the knowledge that he won’t. This exhilarating section supersedes the rest of the film—though not as significantly as the opening of Flight does to the rest of that movie—but the journey to the top is peppered with enough cleverness to make the trip enjoyable. The view up there is unlike any other.