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On September 28th, 2015, I viewed a press screening of the The Walk. Truthfully, what drew me to this particular film was the cast, plus Robert Zemeckis being attached. I was expecting the film to be a tame, family friendly drama, especially considering it garnered a mere PG rating by the MPAA. The Walk, however, was one of the most intense motion pictures I’ve seen in a good while, but not in the stereotypically flashy way American movies tend to be, especially when it comes to 3D releases. No, this picture tells the story of Philippe Petit, a French troubadour with an unending desire to push the limits. He’s both lovable, arrogant, and as we’re reminded throughout the film, an insane dreamer. The impression I got of the character was he didn’t know how to fully relax until he’d done something grand he could be proud of. For him, it was his 1974 illegal wire-walk between the newly constructed Twin Towers. In terms of characterization, Joseph Gordon-Levitt nailed it, masterfully portraying Petit, though it took me a short while to get accustomed to hearing Levitt speak in a French accent. Still, it worked, rivaling performances from method actors such as Daniel Day Lewis. It was so easy to forget Levitt wasn’t actually the character. It may sound like hyperbole, but it’s true. Perhaps it has to do with the fact Petit trained Joseph Gordon-Levitt in wire-walking, making the performance extra believable.
Another aspect the film nailed was buildup. We got to see the main character grow from learning how to walk simple wires, failing, learning lessons and rebuilding his confidence until he’d tackled the feats he needed to graduate to the skill level needed in order to cross the gap between the Twin Towers. As a dramatic tale, it includes everything one could ask for. There’s love, friendship, tension between the coup as they struggle to fathom the insanity of an illegal and daring stunt that’d go down in history. So many variables add up to the suspenseful crossing of the Towers, and we have such a large number of characters we’ve grown to relate to in a packed couple hours, we care about all of them. Most of all, even those of us who knew the gist of the story found genuine concern for the situation the characters were in. His performance had to go perfectly, their rushed job at putting up the wire’s rigging needed to be sufficient and the police had to be careful not to further endanger the life of our wire-walking friend. In fact, they inadvertently add more danger to the situation, but I won’t say how. It’s so impactful I don’t dare spoil it in any fashion.
As a whole, I have to say the film was the best use of 3D graphics to date. It was needed to portray the environments realistically. While I know there was heaps of CGI used, it was so subtle it blended into the picture seamlessly, aside from a few obligatory in-your-face shots that made me jump. There’s also the elephant in the room that is the Twin Towers and the tragic events that took place on 9/11. As an American, the film feels as though it’s in memoriam of the Towers and the love for them our country had formed. This film celebrated the greatness of the Towers while telling a compelling story that wasn’t wrapped in tragedy. Those films have their place, but this one reminded me we need to cherish the accomplishment and wonder the Towers represented, and that we as humans, just like with Petit, will keep pushing forward. We will accomplish what seems unimaginable and truly live. Despite difficulty and, in some cases, tragedy, the human spirit lives on and grows.
Dare I say it, this is Zemeckis’ masterpiece? It’s a true work of art and shines above much of modern cinema. It is cinematic poetry from the first frame and first line all the way to the last. Please, view it when you get the chance, because it will stick with you like so few films are able to. That’s a promise.