Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon
3 (out of 5) Globes
There’s a solid reason for “The Walk” to exist and, of course, it’s the walk itself. The story in Robert Zemeckis’ latest was already told, and semi-recently at that, in “Man on Wire,” which too chronicled French acrobat Philippe Petit’s storied and stranger-than-fiction tight-rope stroll between the Twin Towers in 1974. But footage of Petit’s saunter is virtually non-existent, and “Man on Wire” was forced to resort to insistent music and hyperbolic talking heads to conjure up a spell. “The Walk,” meanwhile, has 3-D, IMAX and one of cinema’s most tech-friendly maximalists at the helm.
The big centerpiece (at the end, as it were) is not a let-down. Zemeckis creates both a sense of vertigo — staring down 110 stories is something else on a big screen, with an extra dimension turning the depth of field into a visceral wow — and a sense of peace, transcendence. Petit (played with appropriate excitability by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) doesn’t just walk it once; he stays up there, he struts back and forth, and just when you think he’s done he tosses his balance beam over his shoulders and flips around for another go. He lays on the ¾-inch beam to stare at the heavens and kneels down to offer emphatic adulation to the wire, to his admiring (and in the case of police, hopping mad and admiring) audience, to the city itself, and, tacitly, unintentionally, to the structures that no longer stand.
It would be easy to say this capper is all “The Walk” has going for it, but for the record it’s all of a piece, and one doesn’t fully get the payoff without the build-up. There is, certainly, a lot of overlap with “Man on Wire,” and not just in the story. Both films depict the invasion and essential conquering of the World Trade Center — by a Frenchman, a retroactive joke neither films feel compelled to underline and italicize — as a peppy heist saga, this one with “Mission: Impossible”-y music. Both adopt the bouncy tone of its hero. “The Walk” even begins with Gordon-Levitt chirping into the camera from atop a CGI Statue of Liberty overseeing a CGI ’70s NYC, not unlike the way Petit himself played incorrigible talking head in “Man on Wire.” Gordon-Levitt, no matter how hyperactive and how many times he says “zee” instead of “the,” can’t come close to the real deal, and the script doesn’t give him too many chances to show off his stuff.