In the month leading up to the completion of World Trade Centre (WTC) South Tower in 1974, wire-walker Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) snuck a crew into both the North and South Towers and walked between them. The stunt, called “the artistic crime of the century,” was both fascinating and illegal. The Walk tells the story of Petit’s life and his journey to complete this infamous stunt.
The Walk is a truly spectacular film. While many will find the first person framing device (Petit stands beside the flame of the Statue of Liberty and tells us his story in flamboyant thespian form) off-putting, the nearly real-time depiction of the walk, complete with internal commentary from the man himself, is a riveting experience that won’t be forgotten.
It is a ‘70s style heist movie mixed with a surrealist style, and it mostly works. Zemeckis’ over-reliance on digital animation techniques, which he pioneered with films like The Polar Express and Beowulf, in the first act makes it difficult to buy into Petit’s story. Once Zemeckis departs from this and begins to bring a more realistic, less storybook style to the film, it becomes much easier to digest.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as Petit. Petit himself is animated and spoke almost entirely in hyperbole and superlatives, and Gordon-Levitt does an excellent job of capturing his zeal. The supporting cast is also excellent, if underused, most notably Ben Kingsley, who is barely in the film but manages to give it heart anyway.
This is also the most impactful and sensitive film made about the World Trade Centre in the past 14 years. Its script, written by Zemeckis and Christopher Browne, fully embodies the Towers as a symbol of the American Dream. The construction of the WTC complex was highly controversial with New Yorkers, and Petit’s walk helped to humanize them, a point the film makes clearly.
Of course the most impressive, and important, thing about The Walk is the 3D technology and digital effects. The walk itself is a dizzying, first-person event you feel viscerally and will never forget. It brings you as close to a point in history as you’re likely to get, and it does so to spectacular effect.
Fans of Man on Wire might be less dazzled, since the film doesn’t bring anything new to the story beyond the spectacular experience of the walk itself.