'The Walk' is not for the faint of heart

the walk

Danger is what makes high wire acts so entertaining. You’re kept in awe of how well tightrope artists keep their balance and essentially…stay alive. But film-viewing’s inherent nature negates the thrills of such feats. There is no real risk, therefore life-threatening stunts become pointless.

And yet Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, a film about a man walking on a wire, still manages to deliver profuse amounts of thrill and excitement! It was a cinematic experience! And this is how movies are supposed to be enjoyed henceforth!

The Walk is a true story about Philippe Petit, a renowned French tightrope artist. Philippe has a gigantic dream – to walk the void between New York’s World Trade Center Twin Towers. He assembles a crew of like-minded misfits and conceives a mad plan to secretly infiltrate the yet-to-be-finished buildings, rig their wire, and ultimately (and illegally) walk across the 140 foot gap.

Philippe Petit was a man with a bold dream.

You could call The Walk an inspirational heist film. There’s a lot of fun to be found during the planning of their WTC stunt and Philippe’s journey from struggling street artist to world celebrity was every bit as rousing as you’d expect it to be. But really the spotlight was on the actual walk. It was the money shot as it were, the central moment by which this film was going to be judged. So was it worth it? Yes, it most certainly was.

Philippe is obviously going to cross the World Trade gap so already the movie is at a disadvantage. There's less jeopardy when you know the central character is going to survive, let alone when you’re watching it through a movie lens. But Robert Zemeckis’ impeccable direction made the moment feel genuine. It was scary as hell! Zemeckis brought his audience up there with Philippe, crossing that petrifying void between the towers one step at a time!

If you think THIS is scary, wait til you see it on IMAX!

The wire walk was handled flawlessly. A combination of first person views and wide angle shots, augmented by the remarkable use of 3D technology, let you could feel the all the pressure and FEAR from being up so high. There are movies that have ugly, dizzying 3D, and then there are others that use them effectively and really compliment the story telling. The Walk was the later.

The sensation being evoked was so convincing that some people reportedly even felt vertigo! VERTIGO. FROM A MOVIE! I myself felt my knee jerking and my muscles tightening every time Philippe’s wire wobbles or something knocks him off balance. One scene even made my stomach sink! One does not simply WATCH The Walk; you EXPERIENCE it!

This moment...

This film also paints a GORGEOUS view of New York City! The CGI recreation of 1970’s New York was utterly stunning and seamless! You’d never be able to tell which parts were real and which parts were digital. The 3D gave the city wonderful texture and depth, while the inspired cinematography and camerawork gave it its soul. Zemeckis gave a breathtaking view of New York that we’ll undoubtedly never see in our lives.

Utterly breathtaking.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this movie should be watched in 3D or not at all, but it’s certainly leaps and bounds better than watching it in 2D. It’s a film truly intended to be viewed on IMAX. You’d likely miss the point if you watched it any other format. But like I said, there’s more to the film than just spectacle. Take that away and you’re left with a powerful, character-driven drama about a man madly passionate about his dream. It’s directed by Robert Zemeckis, the guy behind Forest Gump, Cast Away and Flight, so character dramas are more or less his forte. But even though The Walk wasn’t as poignant as his other films (since the plot mainly revolved around to the planning and execution of the walk itself), Zemeckis still does a good job communicating the kind of man Philippe was. The story starts light, showing a charming and cheery street artist, but also eventually explores more morbid fragments of Philippe’s psyche. Even Zemeckis’ decision to have Philippe narrate atop the Statue Of Liberty conveys the protagonist’s confidence and artistic inclinations.

See what he sees, think what he thinks, and feel what he feels.

The movie also has an understated subtext about dreamers and true art. It was most apparent in the scene right before stepping off the ledge of WTC. The eloquent script, Levitt’s earnest portrayal, and Zemeckis’ visuals of walking over the clouds perfectly captures Philippe’s BEING at that moment. Suddenly you understood his passion completely; that this was his world, his temple. This was where he felt most at peace. He wasn’t doing this for money or attention; he just wanted to bring his art to further heights (quite literally). He wanted to entertain. He wanted to bring beauty to the world. Lukewarm as the subtext may have been during the rest of the film, I’m sure fellow artists felt an overwhelming connection to this particular moment and Philippe’s insatiable creative thirst.

Something I didn’t expect from this film was the strong espionage/heist component. The particulars of their plan were simple enough to understand, but with the 70’s backdrop and the vintage costumes and props, you couldn’t help but feel like this was a classic Bond movie. Maybe in a different universe Philippe Petit could have been a good 007.

Petit's Eight.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt did a magnificent job taking on the role. He brought a balance of heart and flare with a hint of madness. Although I have to admit, I had to get used to his French accent. But it felt more and more natural as the film went on.

You get over the French accent really quick. Then you'll remember how lovable he is.

The rest of the cast were really just there to support the development of the central character and provide comedic relief. I unfortunately didn’t care much about them throughout the film. Only Ben Kingsley, Philippe’s mentor, Papa Rudy, stood out amongst the supporting players. Kingsley’s prominence in the world of acting effortlessly bleeds onto his performance as a person of authority in the high wire community.

The Walk is a highly visceral cinematic experience. It convincingly simulates the tension and profound freedom of walking a tightrope a hundred stories above ground, all while capturing the beauty of a timeless city. Using the latest filmmaking technology available, and unique camerawork, The Walk is a technical marvel as audacious as the artistic performance it tries to portray.


*First seen on The Philippine Online Chronicles!

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