By Jeff Labrecque
Updated October 09, 2015 at 10:50 PM EDT
  • Movie

In 1974, a 24-year-old French wire walker named Philippe Petit infiltrated the newly constructed World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, stretched a steel cable between the two roofs, and proceeded to stroll across, 1,350 feet above the gawking New Yorkers below. It was a dangerous stunt of whimsy that, in time, came to represent something more.

In Robert Zemeckis’ film, The Walk, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit, and though he is every bit a movie star, Gordon-Levitt is overshadowed by the pristine CG towers that served as Petit’s stage. The Walk doesn’t rush to the South Tower; Petit’s early days learning his craft in Paris and his romance with Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) — narrated throughout by Gordon-Levitt’s French-accented Petit — ultimately give way to a heist film. “Though it’s clear what Zemeckis is doing — embracing Petit’s fakery in order to match the supernaturalness of his stunt — The Walk starts to crackle once Petit reaches New York City and touches the World Trade Center, which he does for the first time, endearingly, with his chin,” writes EW’s Joe McGovern, in his A- review. “The flights of fancy continue in the film’s middle stretch, as he recruits a businessman in the South Tower (Steve Valentine) and an electronics salesman (James Badge Dale) as collaborators in his daredevil plot…”

The Walk debuted at the New York Film Festival and opened on Sept. 30 on IMAX and other big-screen formats in order to maximize the 3-D and vertigo-inducing effects of the film’s climactic stunt. The scene has proven to be too realistic for some in the audience, with reports of illness, and the turnout, in general, has been disappointing. With The Walk expanding wide this weekend, Sony is hoping that some outstanding reviews and the opportunity to experience a truly unique cinematic sensation will take the fim to new heights.

For more of McGovern’s review and collection of critics’ takes from around the country, scroll below.

Joe McGovern (Entertainment Weekly) ▲

“The 17-minute wire-walking sequence is the most majestic simulation of a real event since the ship sinking in Titanic — a dazzling triumph of photorealistic digital effects, which exhibits Zemeckis’ mastery of both CGI and pace. Though so much of what preceded it is histrionic, the scene is marvelously unhurried, almost dreamy, taking its cues from Petit as it moves slowly and breathes calmly.”

Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) ▲

“If they’re done well — and The Walk is done beautifully — [movies] create a powerful confusion in the mind, so that the protagonist’s experience feels like your own. The Walk does this. In fact, I’ll just say it: I don’t think I’ve ever been more physically affected by a movie. (I’m not talking about emotions, just physical damage.) After two hours of The Walk, I felt as if I’d walked the wire myself. I was agitated and exhausted. During the movie, I was squirming and wincing, and a few times even had to close my eyes, just to find some relief.”

David Edelstein (New York)

“You watch Gordon-Levitt gently put a slim foot on the wire and you know — you know — he’s going to fall, even if history says otherwise and Petit is narrating the movie. … My sympathetic imagination was so engaged that I was literally afraid to turn my head left or right for fear of losing my balance, and when Zemeckis swiveled the camera, I caught sight of people in front of me clinging to their companions.”

David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter)

“Zemeckis’ The Walk is all about ‘the walk.’ That is to say, the movie comes to dazzling life in its spectacular final 40 minutes or so, when Philippe Petit … tiptoed across the clouds between the towers of the World Trade Center. Harnessing the wizardry of 3-D Imax to magnify the sheer transporting wonder, the you-are-there thrill of the experience, the film’s payoff more than compensates for a lumbering setup, laden with cloying voiceover narration and strained whimsy.”

Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

“The incessant narration by Petit, who addresses the viewer directly while standing on the torch of the Statue of Liberty, at times feels like babbling (the movie gives you the feeling that Petit was a handful). But what matters the most in The Walk is that you believe what you see, even though your brain tells you the World Trade Center is no longer there… This is a love letter to lunacy (and an unspoken tribute to the iconic towers) that lets you feel what it’s like to tread where only gods dare.”

Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)

“Some 14 years after the events of 9/11, filmmakers no longer shy away from references to the Twin Towers if a film happens to be set prior to 2001. Here, though, they’re practically characters in the movie, and while it’s impossible to ever forget for a second the fate of the thousands who were in those towers on one of the worst days in American history, The Walk ends on a lovely, golden note of tribute.”

Tom Russo (Boston Globe)

“The real hurdle was putting together an account on a par with the 2008 Petit portrait Man on Wire, perhaps the most ebulliently absorbing documentary of the last several years. Zemeckis’s true-ish version doesn’t reach those heights throughout, as it proves tricky to capture and dramatize Petit’s street-performer whimsy in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Still, Gordon-Levitt is likably energetic, gamely owning his spotty French accent, and intriguingly playing the intensity propeling Petit toward the void.”

Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

“It would be swell if all of The Walk came together as beautifully as the computer effects do, but it would also be churlish not to appreciate what we do have. This film may not talk the talk, but it definitely walks the walk, and for that we are grateful.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)

“Whatever one thinks of Gordon-Levitt’s weird wig and contacts, the physical aspects of his performance do impress as he adopts the lithe, catlike moves of a professional funambulist — and the attitude of a flip French artiste. Say what you will about the accent, but Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne have captured Petit’s voice — the real, honest-to-God way he expresses himself — and by channeling that, the actor successfully wins us over from the outset, hanging out in the Statue of Liberty’s torch.”

Alex Pappademas (Grantland)

“Gordon-Levitt gives a remarkable physical performance. He also slings more ham and cheese than a fleet of croque monsieur trucks. … He makes Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon look like Johnny Depp in Black Mass. He is, how do you say, le worst, and if you’re anything like me, you will actively wish to be rid of him, right up until he steps off the roof of the South Tower and onto a thin steel cable, at which time you’ll begin praying for his health and safety even if you already know how the story ends.”

Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)

“As a caper flick, The Walk is an engaging homage to process and problem solving, and ­Gordon-Levitt does a fine job of channeling Petit, whose impish sense of mischief belies the messianic ego underneath. … Zemeckis, who is best known for Forrest Gump and Cast Away, is a proven master of special effects, and here he uses 3-D technology with skill and sensitivity: The cable sequence kicks off a climax that turns The Walk from a jolly procedural into a reflective exploration of physical and existential extremes…”

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 70

Rotten Tomatoes: 86 percent

Rated: PG

Length: 123 minutes

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Distributor: Sony

The Walk

2015 movie
  • Movie
  • PG
  • 123 minutes
  • Robert Zemeckis