Robert Zemeckis is clearly a director who loves to push the boundaries of new visual technology. He used visual effects very skillfully in Back to the Future and Forrest Gump and used new motion-capture technology for the computer animated characters in The Polar Express. The Walk is an awesome visual experience, which comes as close as a movie can to making you feel like you are there in the space between the two World Trade Center towers. I’ve not yet seen the documentary Man on Wire about the high-wire walker Philippe Petit’s 1974 walk between the twin towers, but I’m even more interested now that I’ve seen this brilliantly made movie.
The casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the impetuous French high-wire walker Philippe Petit, is perfect. As a character, he’s both likable and unlikable, but like with other brash “artists” (which is how the character views himself) such as Van Gogh or Beethoven, you as a viewer become obsessed with watching him even though he’s a hothead and completely obsessive. The tasks he went through to illegally get up to the top of both twin towers, with the aid of several accomplices, are fascinating to watch. I hope to learn more on the documentary or his book about what specific plot elements were made up for the movie.
One of the ways the movie kept me from getting more scared when he’s doing the walk is that there are only a few shots which look down toward the ground, and they looked to me more like a computer game image than like a photographic image, so my mind didn’t get tricked into thinking I was about to fall. If someone is really scared of heights, I’m sure they’d not even be considering this movie anyway.
There are excellent visual transitions between scenes, an example being where he looks at a building and then it transitions to a model of the building which he built for envisioning a high-wire-crossing. The swift pace of the whole movie is due to the visual transitions, the narration, and the music. Because of the energetic pace, I was enthusiastic by the time he was finally making the triumphant walk between the World Trade Center towers. The suspenseful events of the night of preparation also add a lot to the movie’s dramatic power. There’s one part where a guard comes within about an inch of discovering one of his accomplices on the ground, like the climax of The Sound of Music. I have a suspicion that was added for dramatic tension, but I guess I’ll find out in either his book or the documentary.
Complicating his difficulties, he has an injured foot from stepping into a nail, but has brought his friends over from France and can’t delay too long for their sakes. He additionally has a friend named Jeff (who looks kind of like Elijah Wood) who is afraid of heights but quietly loyal to him.
The energy of the movie is fantastic. One scene moves into another at such a swift pace that I felt almost excited for him to do something that is pretty foolhardy. However, I came to see that Philippe Petit and Nik Wallenda know exactly what they’re doing when they do high-wire crossings with no safety net below them. They have a rod in their arms to help them be more balanced, and they wouldn’t do it if there was a heavy wind. The sense of balance high-wire walkers have within themselves is really hard to believe.
It always improves the movie, rather than killing the energy of the movie, when the Philippe character narrates what happens between scenes, standing atop the Statue of Liberty. It’s an interesting narrative device to have him standing at the Statue of Liberty’s balcony and showing you where the twin towers are (were, I mean). I wasn’t even that sad as I thought about September 11, because this movie immersed me so much in its 1973-1974 world, in such an enthusiastic “joy of living” way.
Alan Silvestri is always a great composer. I suspected he was the composer when I heard some of the music, knowing that he had done work for previous Zemeckis movies and also knowing his style of melody and orchestration. His music in The Walk is good at capturing a sense of wonder and adding elements of danger to that beautiful melody, kind of like his Night at the Museum melody does. The sound effects are also really important for making you feel like you’re watching Philippe really walk across the wire. Sometimes an alternative reality gets presented in the movie which he narrates, as he talks about what he fears will happen and you start to see and hear it for a few seconds. That narrative device is made more effective by the sound effects.
There is so much imaginative collaboration that went into this movie, which really paid off. It feels like every component of the moviemaking became a unified whole