Following a string of massive hits, including the "Back to the Future" trilogy, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "Forrest Gump," and "Cast Away," Robert Zemeckis has enjoyed a few smaller successes during the past few years. Some of these films may not have the same quality as Zemeckis' early work, but they still showcase the Oscar-winning director's incredible gift for storytelling. "The Walk" continues Zemeckis' impressive track record of visually splendid efforts, focusing on one of the most unbelievable true stories of all time. For this biopic (his second after 2012's "Flight"), Zemeckis strings together a lovely cast led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and top notch CGI to create one of this award season's most gorgeous-looking contenders. Though he does not completely captivate his audience for the entire runtime, Zemeckis crafts a payoff so breathtaking that viewers may feel like they have been taken above the clouds.
It is 1974, and French high-wire artist Philippe Petit (Gordon-Levitt) is searching for the next best place to hang his wire. He soon discovers that the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center are nearing completion, and decides to assemble a team to help him pull off the most audacious "coup" in history in order to wire-walk over 100 feet above his New York City spectators. Faced with a number of consequences that would doom the coup, not to mention the possibility of death itself, Petit proudly marches on with his elaborate plan to astound the world and bring the Twin Towers to life for the first time.
Petit is introduced to the audience in appropriately whimsical fashion, as Zemeckis places the man atop the Statue of Liberty with the Twin Towers glistening in the backdrop. Gordon-Levitt captures Petit's amusing eccentricities and oddly inviting French accent pretty well. For the most part, he is convincing enough for the audience to buy into his highly ambitious aspirations. This image of Petit breaking the fourth wall is, for curious reasons, repeated throughout the rest of the picture as the lovable Frenchman continues to narrate every important event in his story, internal and external. It's not totally distracting, since Gordon-Levitt does such a fine job portraying Petit, but after a while one might be left wondering why Zemeckis didn't let most of the film speak for itself.
The first hour of "The Walk" is fairly rudimentary, but definitely not boring. Zemeckis is careful not to speed through or slowly detail character introductions and events preceding Petit's coup. Nevertheless, it is clear that the director's focus is on the coup itself, resulting in a first act that is probably drier than it should have been. There are, however, some moments where Zemeckis uses the film's 3D technology to his advantage in terms of preparing the audience for the dizzying visuals that will soon follow.
The last hour of "The Walk" is when people will truly get their money's worth and then some. The events of the coup are meticulously detailed, and they effectively conjure up hair-raising tension and intense anticipation for Petit's highest high-wire act. Zemeckis also uses these scenes to toy with his audience just a bit without spoiling the full effect of Petit's walk. Various setbacks and problems that occur during the coup are treated as if they were scenes from a thriller, but Zemeckis succeeds in his ability to retain the film's adventurous tone during these scenes.
When Petit finally takes his first steps on the wire, as shown with birds-eye-view camera angles and beautiful visual effects, it's hard not to smile and drop your jaw in complete awe. Zemeckis' interpretation of this history-making performance is hands-down one of the greatest film sequences of the year. My only wish is that the real Petit had stayed on his wire for just a little while longer so that Zemeckis had more freedom to explore the walk from even more brilliantly disorienting perspectives. As a film, "The Walk" isn't really all that memorable or innovative, but it adequately succeeds in its attempt to capture the magic of Petit's awe-inspiring story. For young dreamers and artists today, they may well find their passions reignited by the film.