The first image in Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk” is of a line. Before we see any characters, before we hear any dialogue, before the credit sequence is even finished – there is simply a line. It is a line that inevitably must be crossed, a line between the enormous Twin Towers. But before we reach this point, the movie must introduce us to the man crazy enough to make the walk.
Thus the first face we see in the film is that of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Okay, technically, the first face we see is Philippe Petit’s, the French high-wire artist whose stunt inspired this story. But honestly, the first face we see is Levitt’s. The film does so little to transform him into the red-haired, French Philippe. As it should. A film like “The Walk” does not call for the somber realism provided by the method acting of someone like Daniel Day Lewis. This is a film about a constant performer and his greatest performance. Levitt, a man who has been acting professionally since age six, is the perfect choice. If Gordon-Levitt is constantly engaging, and he is, than he has succeeded in capturing the essence of Philippe the entertainer far better than any physical transformation ever could.
And like Petit, the film is constantly trying to entertain. The camera work is inventive and energetic, often going from a bird’s-eye view to a close-up within the span of a single take. The editing is snappy, keeping the plot moving forward at a brisk pace. The score is buoyant and jazzy. The film just has fun running Gordon-Levitt and his accomplices through a series of ruses and disguises as they try to break into the World Trade Center. It’s all deliriously giddy — until Gordon-Levitt steps out onto that wire.
Then it just becomes delirious. Not since “Gravity” has a movie so demanded to be seen in IMAX 3-D. Zemeckis has been pushing the boundaries of CGI since “Polar Express,” but finally the technology has caught up to his ambitions. A part of your brain might recognize that everything in this sequence is fake, that this man cannot actually be walking out onto a cable suspended over a thousand feet in the air. But another part of your brain will be too terrified to care. Every sway in that cable, every tremble in Gordon-Levitt’s body, hits you hard. It’s one of the most riveting and frightening scenes of the year. As a woman in the audience put it, “I don’t know if I liked the guy or not by the end of the film. I just wanted him to come down.”
In short, “The Walk” is one of the most thrilling and entertaining movies of the year. It’s a delightfully fun picture that has the good sense not to be weighed down by seriousness. Seriousness is for the earthly world of ordered citizens. It has no place in a story about a man who walked among clouds.
Contact Raymond Maspons at raymondm ‘at’ stanford.edu.