In light of Man On Wire, the sublime documentary about Philippe Petit’s famous tightrope-walk between New York’s twin towers, this dramatised version of events from Robert Zemeckis seems rather unnecessary.
It’s a sentiment exacerbated by Zemeckis’s decision to have his wire-walking protagonist directly address the audience in derivative, documentary style.
Standing on top of the statue of liberty, Philippe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explains the lure of the towers: the perfect place to hang his wire.
It’s cheesy in the extreme, the bizarre location for his voiceover suggesting the eccentric, theatrical real-life Philippe of James Marsh’s 2008
Gordon-Levitt does a capable job imitating Philippe’s energetic vocal rhythm. Despite this, it’s hard to escape frustration with Hollywood’s bias towards US stars over lesser-known (in this case French) actors. The accents are often jarring.
While The Walk considers Philippe’s youth at length, it offers little insight into his persona, landing on an idealistic ending that avoids any exploration of the impact of fame.
It follows, that the main reason to see The Walk is to witness the spectacle itself. Zemeckis delivers it with considerable flair, accentuating the lofty height of the towers with zoom and inventive camera placement.
Yet even Zemeckis’ mastery of the green-screen struggles to rival the emotion found in original photographs of Philippe smiling on the wire over 1,300 feet above New York. Inevitably, total immersion in The Walk’s spectacle is hindered by the paucity of the storytelling that precedes it.
Those who haven’t seen Man On Wire would be better off renting a copy instead.