Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire walk between New York’s Twin Towers was several things: illegal, death-defying, comically absurd and, as evoked in the majestic 2008 documentary ‘Man on Wire’, suffused with a kind of coolheaded urban poetry. Recreating the crime for ‘The Walk’, director Robert Zemeckis does a crackerjack job with the thrills and a so-so one with the laughs (at least the intentional ones); he skips the deeper magic altogether.
Peppered with rascally audience-addressing comments by star Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the irrepressible Petit, the film’s zaniness takes some getting used to. Gordon-Levitt’s oui-oui French accent requires patience too (the actor’s exuberance could have been more finely shaded), and just when you’re okay with it, along comes a thick slice of Ben Kingsley as a circus impresario of indeterminate origin. When the plot finally shifts to New York City and its getting-the-team-together build-up, Zemeckis goes for wacky pot humour when a sneakier vibe would have sufficed.
But there’s no denying the director’s total command when we’re finally 110 storeys high. This is when the Zemeckis of ‘Back to the Future’ shows up, marshalling a winning looseness with the actors, vivid 3D cinematography, a palpable sense of weather and danger, and an emotionally rousing moment when Petit salutes the city below.
The real events have been sanitised – Petit immediately jumped into bed with a random groupie after his ‘coup’, he didn’t go for a celebratory dinner with dully patient girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) – but there’s enough daredevil verve here to offset the pedestrian comedy.