On a warm weekday morning in 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petit performed the greatest high-wire act ever attempted without a safety net – - a staggering 45 minute stroll between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Petit disappeared from public view for many years following that triumph, but resurfaced more than a quarter of a century later as the subject of Man on Wire, the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary about his feat. (You can find my review of that film by going to jakestakes.com and clicking on the title). Now 6 years later, director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Forest Gump, the Back tothe Future trilogy) offers audiences his recreation of Petit’s dramatic feat using the latest developments in 3-D filmography. While The Walk’s screenplay flirts with clichés and its sophomoric humor threatens to make this film quite inferior to many of Zemeckis’ previous efforts, his unquestioned mastery of special effects makes this a must-see movie for those interested in the technical aspects of film-making.
The remarkable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, (Inception, Looper, TheLookout, Mysterious Skin) provides a highly credible Petit; at 5’9’’ in height and displaying a torso that appears to have been sprayed onto his slight frame, the actor physically personifies the physique required for Petit’s astounding dare- devil act. Alas, Levitt and the other members of the film’s cast are burdened with a cliché-laden script that makes it well nigh impossible to experience their characters’ motivations.
But The Walk really isn’t about the personalities involved; it only begins to sizzle when Petit’s brazen hutzpah inspires his crew to sneak equipment into both buildings, laboriously string the necessary cable and supporting struts before going on to film Petit’s jaw-dropping performance. The movie’s two hour running time wears thin long before the real excitement begins – but when Petit gazes down at the Big Apple’s financial district from his perch atop the north building, Zemeckis’ wizard-like use of 3-D becomes spell-binding.
59 year-old Polish cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, whose visual genius has been amply displayed in such movies as Prometheus and The Martian, dazzles viewers with what will become the gold standard of three-dimensional movies going forward. The results personify the visceral impact of special effects in movies – the simultaneous urge to see more combined with the gut-wrenching fear that the next frame will be simply too terrifying to watch. That makes the final 30 minutes of TheWalk worth the hour and a half, which precedes it.
The Verdict? A thoroughly pedestrian retelling of an Oscar-winning documentary justified solely by the brilliance of this version’s technical accomplishments.
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