It’s funny how since the fall of the Twin Towers, the daredevil exploits of Frenchman Philippe Petit have become all the more legendary than when his greatest conquests were still standing proud. 2008 brought us the breathtaking documentary Man on Wire, telling the world of the somewhat forgotten journey of one man through the void. In his latest film, The Walk, seasoned director Robert Zemeckis retells the awe-inspiring tale in glorious 3D.
Beginning with his early days as a street performer, The Walk follows the young Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Inception, 500 Days of Summer) as, despite his parents’ wishes, he leaves home to become an entertainer. Finding himself under the wing of legendary circus performer Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley doing his trademark grumpy old man with a funny voice), Petit quite literally learns the ropes of being a high-wire walker. Soon after, a chance trip to the dentist plants into the young man’s head the far-fetched idea of traversing the space between the soon to be finished World Trade Centre’s towers. Alongside his newfound band of assistants, Petit develops his plans for the art crime of the century. What follows is a tense and at times hilarious heist culminating in the heart-stopping final performance.
As the master of ceremonies, Gordon-Levitt is instantly likeable as the ambitious troubadour, and although his French accent is at times jarring, his enthusiasm and passion are infectious. Indeed, this grumpy critic may just have to take back his prior conceptions of the young man; he has finally outgrown his 3rd Rock From the Sun goofiness.
The biggest surprise with The Walk however is the masterful direction of Mr. Zemeckis. This is a Hollywood picture with all the nuances of a French film, and at times it was difficult to believe that this was not a Jean-Pierre Jeunet production, oozing with all the whimsy of Amelie or MicMacs rather than the madcap antics of Back to the Future or Roger Rabbit. Zemeckis has truly outdone himself in what may be the unexpected cinematic masterpiece of his career.
Of course, much to do with this relies not only upon Gordon-Levitt’s cheeky chappy and Zemackis and Browne’s engaging script, but also in the film’s setting. The Towers act almost as another character in the film; the mentor that inspires, the princess to be won and the foe to be defeated. The sheer vertigo induced by the birds-eye shots of Petite’s final walk are both grimacingly uncomfortable and instantly breathtaking, finally giving us a film that actually warrants the 3D effects.
Overall, The Walk is a tense yet charming biopic that exhibits the determination and wonder of the human soul, and acts not only as a tribute to the great performer, but also as a beautiful memorial to the fallen skyscape of New York.
Dir: Robert Zemeckis
Scr: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Boone
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz
Prd: Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, Robert Zemeckis
DOP: Dariusz Wolski
Music: Alan Silvestri
Run time: 123mins
The Walk is available on DVD and Blu-ray from 1st Feb and is out now on Digital HD now.