The first question that anyone is likely to ask themselves when choosing whether or not to watch “The Walk,” which tells the story of Philippe Petit’s infamous wire-walk between the World Trade Center towers, is why anyone felt that the film was necessary after the stunning documentary “Man on Wire” had already covered this story in great detail just a few years ago. It’s a difficult question to answer, but my best guess is that, despite the numerous accolades that were given to the film (including an Oscar), there were a number of people that might not have seen it, the kind of people that don’t watch that many documentaries, if any at all. Not that the filmmakers really needed any kind of justification with a cast and crew this good, and a story that is so surreal that if we didn’t have proof that it actually happened, no one would believe it. With a tale like that, how can you not take the opportunity to fully dramatize it?
“The Walk” begins by introducing us to Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young street performer in 1970’s Paris who has aspirations to do a bigger act. This eventually leads him to the skill of tightrope walking, a skill that he begins to hone with the help of a teacher, Papa Rudy (Sir Ben Kingsley), who works at a nearby circus. At first, Philippe starts small, hanging his rope in places that aren’t that difficult, but eventually he has the urge to try something a little more daring, which causes him to string a rope between the two towers of the Notre Dame cathedral and walk across. One day, he happens to run across an ad for the World Trade Center towers currently under construction in New York City, which immediately sparks a desire to try to put up his wire and walk between them. With the help of his girlfriend, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), and a few others, he sets out to bring this nearly-impossible dream to life.
Like with the documentary that came before it, this isn’t going to be a film that contains that much suspense, because most people already know that Petit did indeed pull off this amazing feat, but that’s not what’s important. What is important is how the story is told, how the events eventually build up to this incredible event, which as far as “The Walk” is concerned, is done pretty well. As Philippe’s dream is first realized, we are right there with him as the joy and unbridled enthusiasm is born. It becomes rather infectious, which goes a long way towards helping the audience get involved in what you could pretty easily call a heist film of sorts.
It’s fascinating to watch all the pieces of this intricately-laid plan come together, from the forming of the team with their specific tasks to the very precise methods that have to be applied in order to make sure the wire is safe enough to walk on. All along we have that strong sense of hope and ambition from Petit as we follow the many steps that he has to take in order for his dream to come to life, a dream that might seem a little silly to some, but one that meant the world to him. Again, we know exactly what’s going to happen, especially those that have already seen this story before, but that doesn’t prepare you for what’s to come in the film’s breathtaking climax.
If there’s one particular difference between this film and “Man on Wire,” it’s that we only got to see pictures of the event in the latter. For “The Walk,” Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis has gone all-out to create Petit’s walk using gorgeous special effects that present a grand replica of New York as it was in 1974, but the illusion doesn’t end there. This recreation comes with such depth that one can actually feel the immense height at which Petit performs, which might even cause a problem for those that are a little squeamish when it comes to heights. This startling sequence goes on for about 17 minutes, bringing all of Petit’s ambition to life and leaving us with one of the most unforgettable cinematic scenes of the year.
While I would still recommend the documentary over this film, mainly because of the chance to hear the entire story straight from the real Philippe Petit’s mouth, Zemeckis’ film is still a fine telling of the events that is worth checking out. Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Petit is practically spot-on, keeping you engaged throughout the film even during its slower sections. To be honest, the wire-walking scene alone makes the entire film worth watching, but luckily there’s much more keeping the film afloat than just the anticipation of its climax. It may be a twice-told tale now, but it’s easily one that’s worth being told again.
“The Walk” arrives on Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The picture is perfectly sharp and clear with not a hint of fuzziness to be found, which really helps the visual effects shine throughout the film (particularly during the climactic walk). The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also fantastic, giving you all elements of the soundtrack from the dialogue to Alan Silvestri’s score in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given great treatment, leaving you with a home release that couldn’t possibly be better.
First Steps – Learning to Walk the Wire (9 Minutes): A fascinating featurette that explores how Joseph Gordon-Levitt trained with the real Philippe Petit.
Pillars of Support (8 Minutes): An informative featurette that takes a look at the group that helped Petit pull off his infamous walk.
The Amazing Walk (11 Minutes): A great featurette that goes behind the scenes to explore the many technical aspects of the film.
Deleted Scenes (6 Minutes): About six minutes of additional scenes that were easily lost from the final cut.
While “Man on Wire” remains the better telling of Philippe Petit’s story, Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk” is a fine adaptation of these events, culminating with one of the most breathtaking climaxes of the year. Further aided by a captivating performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and an infectious sense of enthusiasm, the film is mostly compelling as it goes about unfolding how Petit and his crew were able to pull off this seemingly-impossible act. You may already know how it ends, but don’t let that stop you from seeing just what it took to make it happen.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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