A Balanced Spectacle

Ben Atwater

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IMAX and 3D are often a subject of controversy in the film industry. From a consumer perspective, movie tickets cost upwards of seven dollars more for often sloppily converted 3D. Yet sometimes, the format transcends an expensive gimmick and makes a piece of art all the more engaging. Such is the case with The Walk.

On August 7, 1974, Phillipe Petit made history when he strung a wire between the World Trade Center Towers and walked across it untethered.

A French high-wire artist, Petit’s triumph is the second best known event involving high-wire stunts.

Petit’s story has been taken to film twice. In 2008 Man on a Wire won Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars. The second film is The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’ latest film. Starring Joseph Gordon Levitt as Petit, The Walk is essentially a biopic, telling Petit’s story from childhood to his famous feat in 1974. Spoken by Petit from the top of the Statue of Liberty, the narrative starts during Petit’s childhood where he is inspired by a circus troop of wire walkers, led by Papa Rudy. Played by Sir Ben Kingsley, Papa Rudy trains Petit in the art of wire walking. Breaking down the nitty-grittiness of wire walking, from the types of wire, knots, tension, and everything else, Petit practices in the streets of Paris on wires strung up to lamp posts.

In the streets, Petit meets Annie, a guitar player who quickly becomes the love interest of the story. Petit aims to inspire through the impossible, and his heart is soon set on the World Trade Center Towers. In the final stages of construction, Phillipe assembles a crew to execute “The Coup.”

Comprised of a photographer, a mathematician, a radio salesman, and a few stoners, Phillipe devotes all of his resources to pull of The Coup, including all of his money, time, sweat, and blood.

Without spoiling the story, The Walk is one of the best films of 2015. As an examination of the life of Phillipe Petit, Joseph Gordon Levitt gives his best performance yet.

Always likeable and committed, Levitt plays Petit with such conviction and drive that the viewer cheers for Petit the entire time. The supporting characters are excellent as well; Ben Kingsley is excellent as always, giving life to the wise Papa Rudy.  Charlotte Le Bon, a French actress, makes a great debut into American cinema. Ben Schwartz even pops up as the photographer of “The Coup,” who has gained a fan following as Jean Ralphio in Parks and Recreation.

The set design engagingly recreates a real 1970s-era New York and Paris. The sound effects perfectly capture the business and chaos of NYC, with the constant hum of a thousand motors and the unified calamity of horns and tire screeches. That is the sound of New York City, and the film always makes sure to portray that.

After The Walk sets up Petit’s background, the large middle chunk is essentially a heist film, in which Petit and his crew plan out the walk. Highly illegal, Petit and company spend weeks sneaking supplies up the unfinished towers, playing as guards and manual laborers. The heist element is played excellently, with thrills, laughs, and a very tangible understanding of the task itself. The screenplay explains the mechanics of the wire walk very well, and one comprehends the science and engineering that went into Petit’s plans. Yet the highlight of the film is yet to come.

The last twenty minutes is spent entirely on the wire. After an hour and a half of buildup and characterization, the titular walk takes place. Phillipe’s walk across the World Trade Center will go down as one of the best visually dazzling scenes in film.  Zemeckis delivers on his reputation of visual storytelling, as the perspective and cinematography is the best that has been put to film in years.

The visual effects capture the immense height and scale of the towers, and this is where IMAX comes into play. The IMAX format has never been utilized so well in film. The largeness of the screen and the surround sound place the viewer on the walk with Petit thousands of feet in the air. There have been reports of viewers coming out of the film with vertigo due to how well the height is captured. I can definitely see why, but that just makes it all the more for someone with a strong stomach.

Alan Silvestri scored The Walk amazingly, with a powerful and moving theme throughout as well as jazzy interludes for the heist elements. This is Zemeckis’ best work so far. More tangible than Forrest Gump, more character-driven than Castaway, and more heart than Back to the Future, The Walk is sure to come into heavy contention this February at the Oscars.

The Walk will undoubtedly get nominated for Best Cinematography and Visual Effects, yet ideally The Walk will get nominated for Best Actor for Levitt, Best Score, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. This is a feel good movie for the ages that does not get bogged down in sappiness like Zemeckis’ most famous film, Forrest Gump.

With a touching ode to 9/11 at the end, The Walk is a joyful romp with heart, suspense, and definitely worth full price in IMAX 3D.

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A Balanced Spectacle