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:: The Walk

The Walk tells the true story of Phillipe Petit, here played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Growing up in France, from a young age, Petit was fascinated by performing, specifically on the high-wire. He meets a circus owner named Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), who agrees to train him in the art. Petit then moves to Paris, where he gets by as a street-performer and where he meets fellow artist Annie (Charlotte Le Bon). While perusing a magazine, Petit sees an article about a pair of massive skyscrapers which are being constructed in New York City — The World Trade Center. Inspired, Petit decides that he wants to string a wire between the two buildings and walk it. Taking on Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony) and Jeff (Cesar Domboy) as partners, the group travels to New York to being their mission. But, how can a quartet of French “tourists” infiltrate a highly secure building and pull of a highly illegal stunt?

I ask why would acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis choose to make The Walk. The first reason refers to the fact that Phillpe Petit historical World Trade Center event was already examined in the 2008 documentary Man on Wire. The movie won an Oscar for Best Documentary, so apparently someone thought that it did a good job of telling the story. No, this isn't the first example of a dramatization examining a person or event which had already been covered in a documentary, but it's rare to get the two films so close together and for the documentary to be so highly regarded.

The screenplay be Zemeckis and Christopher Browne, based on the book To Reach the Clouds by Petit, is long and detailed, and yet, incredibly narrow. The first act does give us details about Petit's childhood, his life in France, and how he got into doing wire-walking, but I still felt that I didn't get to know the character very well, and I knew even less about the supporting characters. The bulk of the two hour movie focuses on the caper, and the actual event itself takes place seemingly in real time in some scenes. However, following the conclusion of the event, the movie simply ends. If ever a story needed a prologue, it was this one. What has Petit been up to in the last 40 years? What was his reaction to the events of September 11, 2001? Even some simple text at the end would have provided a bit of closure.

The problems with the story and the characters aside, Zemeckis is a master of exciting action movies, so surely the movie is entertaining, right? No. Zemeckis has crafted a movie which is oddly devoid of emotion or suspense. The musical cues keep telling us that something moving is happening, but I simply never felt it. The movie wants us to be right there with Petit experiencing the breathtaking event, but it all feels very cold. The “heist” elements of the movie, in which the crew has to sneak into the World Trade Center, is clearly meant to be suspenseful, but I never felt a hint of anxiety, but that didn't stop Zemeckis from stretching out the moments when the group is hiding from security guards.

I have not seen Man on a Wire, so I was actually interested in learning more about Petit's crazy spectacle. And while I feel like I did learn some things (assuming that the movie stuck to the facts), I came away with many more questions. Zemeckis proves that he still has an incredibly eye for visuals and most of the visual effects are seamless, but we don't come away with the joie de vivre that Petit seems to possess.

DVD Extras

• ‘Pillars of Support’ Featurette