Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Walk
Vera Anderson/ Jim Spellman/ Robin Marchant/ Getty Images
At one point in The Walk, as Philippe Petit steps onto a high wire strung between the towers of the World Trade Center, clouds roll in and obscure the view of New York City, leaving only Petit’s foot in frame as he steps onto the wire, which seems to stretch endlessly into nothing. It’s a striking image, especially when viewed in IMAX 3D, which adds an almost tangible depth to the vast nothing below Petit. Several people in the audience gasped, and as the score drifted out and the film went silent as Petit balances between walking on his wire and the building, the theater was dead quiet. It was absolutely engrossing..…
And then Petit resumes his incessant f*cking narrating of every single f*cking thing happening in the movie and the moment is over.
The Walk is full of frustrating moments like that, as technically precise and beautifully rendered visuals are overlaid with the most obnoxious voice-over narration in recent memory. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Petit, using a believable French accent and a less believable hairpiece, and he narrates the entire f*cking movie, down to repeating lines of dialogue as he is saying them in-scene to other characters. The Walk thinks you are too stupid to understand anything that is happening, so it explains everything to you with unceasing voice-over and cutaways to Petit speaking directly into camera because god forbid we just watch a f*cking scene without stopping the whole movie so it can repeat back to us everything we just f*cking learned to make sure our tiny pea brains can handle the modicum of information being ladled to us. More than once I wanted to yell, “Get on with it!” at this movie.
The Walk is at its best when it’s functioning as a heist movie as Petit, aided by his insanely supportive girlfriend, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon, Yves Saint Laurent), and a team of accomplices he recruits from places like art schools and dodgy electronics stores, plans his “coup”. The third act is far and away the best part of the movie as Petit and his team execute their plan to break into the World Trade Center and string Petit’s wire during the dead of night so he can walk it first thing in the morning. This is also when cinematographer Dariusz Wolski’s work with perspective goes next-level and puts you on the wire with Petit. (Wolski also lensed The Martian, which is less impressive in 3D but does also feature seamless digital work.) If you do see The Walk, I recommend splurging on 3D—this is one you want to see in the most immersive way possible.
JGL is very good as Petit, though his performance is undercut by the incessant narration. Any actual emotion that arises in a scene is immediately explained to us in voice-over, just in case we didn’t get it the first time, which takes away from the immediacy of what just happened. But there is more for the actors to chew on than in Everest, so on a character level it is more satisfying than that movie, though it falls short of the similarly death-defying The Martian. And James Badge Dale deserves a special prize for always being the best thing in any movie he’s in. He’s so good as Petit’s New York accomplice, JP, The Walk feels like an entirely different, and much better, movie when he’s on screen. The fault lies not with the actors, but with director Robert Zemeckis, who co-wrote the script with Christopher Browne, and thinks we’re a bunch of f*cking idiots who can’t process awe without someone holding our hand through it.
So yeah, The Walk looks amazing, and the acting is solid, especially from JGL and James Badge Dale. But it’s also a movie that talks down to you, literally and figuratively. The technical aspects are incredible, but the entire narrative structure is designed for kindergartners. The Walk opens in IMAX on Wednesday and everywhere on Friday. You know what else opens on Friday? The Martian. If your movie-going options this weekend are between these two movies, go see The Martian, a movie that treats you like a f*cking adult. As opposed to The Walk, a movie which spoon feeds you every thought and emotion because it assumes you’re too f*cking feeble to process the message of the movie, which amounts to “follow your dreams”. Visuals aside, this movie is for toddlers.