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Running Time:
2 hours, 3 minutes

Rating: PG Parental Guidance Suggested.

Rating Explanation:
for thematic elements involving perilous situations, and for some nudity, language, brief drug references and smoking

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
A thrilling, striking tribute to human ingenuity, ambition and daring.

Additional Info:
Joseph Gordon-Levitt ... Philippe Petit
Mark Trafford ... American Tourist
Inka Malovic ... Woman in Chalk Circle Lucas Ramaciere Lucas Ramaciere ... Boy in Chalk Circle
Soleyman Pierini ... Young Philippe Petit

The Walk

The first two-thirds of The Walk is narrated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who as Philippe Petit tells the story in the man’s typically exuberant voice while perched atop the Statue of Liberty’s torch overlooking the twin towers in New York City. He goes back to his youth, explaining how as a boy he became entranced by circus wire-walking and undertook to teach himself the skill. His obsession led his frustrated father to toss him out of the house, and eventually took him to Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), a master of the art, to teach him the tricks of the trade. Going to Paris to work as a street performer, he met Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), a musician who became his girlfriend and prime helper, and after successfully managing a walk between the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral, fixated on the idea of walking between the World Trade Center towers. Eventually he enlisted two other collaborators—photographer Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony) and Jean-Francois (known as Jeff) (Cesar Domboy), a mathematician whose English was poor and was acrophobic to boot, and the quartet was off to New York.

This portion of the film is frankly disappointing. Even those who have admired Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the past are likely to find his strenuously puckish take on Petit, however true to life it might be, grating at best and insufferable at worst. His French-accented English is also an irritant, especially in its initial stages. It represents an audacious choice but might also be career stumble for the actor.

That’s as much a fault of director Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future"), never noted for his subtlety, but here goes overboard in striving for whimsy and elfin charm, and the prodding of his star in that direction has an unfortunate effect.  

Though Joseph Gordon-Levitt remains somewhat hamstrung by the character’s flamboyance even when the action moves to New York, the movie itself takes off. Some energetic new characters are added, most notably James Badge Dale as a fast-talking electronics clerk and Scott Valentine as an insurance agent with a convenient office high on one of the towers. But they’re secondary to the narrative arc, which takes all the conspirators into the tricky business of getting their equipment up to the tower roofs, eluding security personnel in the process, and then rigging it up for the walk. Robert Zemeckis uses special effects to generate some big moments, especially those while Philippe and Jean-Francois are trapped on a girder in an elevator shaft, and there's a blaring score by Alan Silvestri, which sounds as though it was composed for a 1970s heist movie, however, Cesar Domboy really comes into his own in these scenes, though how Jeff miraculously overcomes his extreme fear of heights at this crucial moment is never fully explained.

But then the action moves to the walk itself, and it proves spectacular, with the cinematography by Dariusz Wolski employing every trick in the current special effects playbook to endow those twenty minutes or so with a real sense of wonder, especially in the big screen format with its smartly-used 3D possibilities. Joseph Gordon-Levitt finally breaks free of the stiflingly chipper requirements of the part and shows the genuine physical grace he’s capable of. Unfortunately, the near-incessant narration continues and the depiction of the cops trying to coax Petit back to the ledge is often crudely stereotypical. Whether you consider the post-1974 epilogue, with its virtual paean to the fallen towers, appropriate recognition of a national tragedy or an attempt to play on viewers’ emotions is an open question. This is a great story, but The Walk proves an overly cute retelling of it, and except for the walk itself might be more a cinematic misstep than a triumph.

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