The story in his latest feature The Walk does manage to connect with the audience – as fantastic as this true tale is about wire-walker Philippe Petit, it can’t help but do so – but not before we have to brush aside a few of Zemickis’ questionable choices which not only prove distracting but seem nonsensical as well. Thankfully these are ponied out and dispensed with quickly so that we can concentrate on this fantastic tale, but the whimsical tone they contribute to looms over the film until the end.
There’s no question that Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a breed apart. This young Frenchman, who as a teenager became enamored with high-wire walking, has said that such a job is not courting death (a word he never uses) but living life to its fullest. Constantly in search of a span over which he can string his rope across, in 1973 he became obsessed with the construction of the World Trade Center, a structure he knew would test his mettle, bring him fame and, most importantly, make him feel more alive than he ever had before.
The film recounts Petit’s planning and execution of this feat as he’s aided by a group of compatriots who share his passion to upset the status quo if not his lunacy for putting themselves in harm’s way to do so. We are treated to scenes of Petit training for this exercise and the film veers into the realm of the heist movie as we watch his crew fashion a step-by-step method of infiltrating the building, smuggling the 450-pound wire to the top and then rigging it between the two towers, all of which is quite fascinating.
The problem with the film is Zemeckis’ choice of having Petit narrate his own story while standing on the torch of the Statue of Liberty. He speaks to the viewer directly and is so manic in doing so that he comes to resemble an animated character. All of this is done with the aid of obvious green screen effects, which renders the movie to being something of a cartoon whenever we cut back to this device. Equally irritating is the fact that we are offered very little as far as Petit’s background and true motivation. Yes, he’s an egomaniac and an adrenaline junkie, but there’s far more than that at play with a man who would attempt such a fantastic, life-threatening feat.
This device, plus an early choice to use black-and-white film for Petit’s memories and then inexplicably abandon the method as well as colorizing certain objects in these monochrome sequences, proves distracting, as if Zemeckis is attempting some slight of hand to keep us from focusing on the story at hand. It all comes off as unnecessary and a bit amateurish.
However, once we get to Petit’s grand wire walk, the director’s bag of tricks is put to good use. It is essential that the film be seen in 3-D as the depth of frame that’s added through this method as well as the scope and perspective that’s accorded through the IMAX format is truly astonishing. This is one of the rare occasions when the technology gives depth to the meaning of the story, providing some reasoning for Petit’s actions as well as an inkling of the beauty he created and experienced while looking death in the face. This is the kind of vicarious experience movies were made for, and while The Walk may meander it ultimately delivers a unique brand of thrills that are worth the wait.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.