The Walk: One Small Step, by Rudie Obias
During the first decade of the new millennium, director Robert Zemeckis stopped making live-action movies and started to embrace and experiment with motion capture technology and virtual cameras. With The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol, he had complete control over every aspect of his movies. Regardless of whether or not it adhered to any spatial logic or real world physics, he could move the camera in every direction he saw fit and place his actors in any position or stance. Unfortunately, his stint with motion capture technology was short-lived because the movies mentioned above were box office failures, so he returned to live-action filmmaking with Flight in 2012. While Zemeckis brought over some of the tricks and techniques he learned while making his “motion capture trilogy” to Flight, he fully realized the marriage between virtual camerawork and live-action with his new film, The Walk.
The Walk follows Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a French high-wire artist who dreams of coming to America to walk on a wire across the newly-built World Trade Center during the early 1970s. The film is told through Philippe recounting his dazzling feat on August 7, 1974, as he stands on the torch of a CGI Statue of Liberty. If fact, most of the film’s climax and narrative is completely CGI considering that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are no longer part of Manhattan’s skyline. Philippe shares his story directly to the audience with as much flair and showmanship as a high-wire performer.
He tells of how he first fell in love with tightrope walking as a child, his struggles as a street performer in Paris as a teenager, and how he met his mentor Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), a circus performer from the Czech Republic. The Walk also recounts how Philippe mets his accomplices in his artistic coup, including his lover Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon). The film gives his relationship with Annie short shrift, denying an emotional payoff to their relationship. She’s not really a character in the film, but then again, not many of the other characters are fully fleshed out as this writer would prefer. The film sees all of its characters like Philippe sees his team of accomplices, as a means to an end.
Surprisingly, The Walk resembles the better parts of a heist film rather than your standard biopic. Once Philippe decides to walk across the Twin Towers, he spends three months going undercover to examine every inch of the World Trade Center and how it operates day-to-day. He even recruits an “inside man,” “gadget guy,” and “face” to pull off the daring scheme. Philippe and his team sneak into the North and South Towers under the cover of night and put up a high wire. Once daybreak hits and the city comes alive, he will attempt to walk across from the South to the North Tower.
The climax of The Walk is well worth the price of admission (for the love of God, watch The Walk in 3D!!*). Robert Zemeckis shoots The Walk in such a way that conveys so much depth and suspense while Petit attempts to walk from tower to tower. The last 20 minutes of The Walk is heartstopping and nerve-wracking, as it feels as you are with Philippe every step of the way.
From the opening moments of The Walk, you can get a clear impression that Robert Zemeckis has a firm grasp on every facet of the film from the wonderful performances to the exact way the camera moves through space. It’s a dizzying movie that is very crowd pleasing and intense. The Walk is also a glimpse into what the World Trade Center meant to New Yorkers and how it was a rallying point to bring people together in good times and bad. It’s also a stark reminder that you have to be a little crazy and insane to follow your dreams. I know, it sounds very cheesy, but then again, so is The Walk.
*A minor note: I don’t think watching the movie in IMAX is necessary. It wasn’t shot with the giant format and I found myself just waiting for the picture to get bigger once Petit stepped on the high wire, but slightly disappointed when the aspect ratio didn’t open up to reveal more of the dizzying sky above New York City.