The Walk was my favorite film of 2015. It takes quite a lot to get me into a movie theater these days (a good Star Wars movie, for example – that’ll do it, lol), so I’m not quite sure why I was so eager to watch this dramatization of events I’d already seen portrayed extremely well in the documentary, Man On Wire. It details the journey of one man to attain his (admittedly insane) dream of tightrope-walking across the twin World Trade Center towers. Why would anyone want to do this? Well, interestingly enough, the film begins with an unabashedly old-school trope by way of our main character narrating directly to the audience and asking that very question. This disarmed me immediately and had me shifting comfortably down in my seat in preparation for a modern-day fairy tale…a fairy tale that just happened to also be a true story. As I’ll get into later, this approach was somewhat off-putting at first, and yet it’s the primary reason why the movie has continued to grow on me exponentially since that first viewing. As the film progresses, it loses some (but not all) of that naive charm in favor of a more straightforward heist feel, and it’s thankfully here that the film truly shines. There’s enough energy, humor and seemingly effortless technical wizardry on display in a few minutes of The Walk as in a dozen other whole films these days. It’s an anti-blockbuster in many ways – the biggest possible movie about the most intimate of subjects. The story it tells is as small as it was – and still is – enormous, and it’s a shame that so many have forgotten all about it today.
The Walk isn’t really about walking a tightrope. Or at least that isn’t what I came away from it believing it was about. It’s about staring into the abyss of one’s most grandiose aspirations and taking that first step toward reaching out and truly grabbing them. The wire isn’t so much a support as it is that fine line we must all walk in a life so full of potential peril with every forward movement. I believe the story is as inspirational as it is because it shows us what one person can accomplish when they take that first step…when they shift their weight and decide to commit fully to what they believe is possible and not stay tethered to what they know is safe and secure. None of us get anywhere in our lives from doing the latter, and Philippe Petit was a man who both understood and embraced that to the nth degree. His dream might have been a crazy one, but it was his dream to have and no one else’s. Regardless of one’s opinion of the validity of that dream, he did something no one had ever done…and something no one will ever do again. There’s a moment late in the film that has stayed with me more than any other. It’s the most understated and tasteful tribute I believe I have ever seen in a movie like this to the tragedy of 9/11. It’s really more of a one-two punch between a couple of scenes, and I don’t mind admitting that I left the theater with glistening eyes. Yet that slight sadness was replaced quickly by a joy at what I’d just seen and felt over the last two hours.
The failure of The Walk to garner any interest whatsoever at the box office will go down for me as one of 2015’s most egregious oversights. For my part, I saw it on opening weekend and was completely blown away. Now I’ll admit, it didn’t quite hit me that way at first. In fact, I felt rather underwhelmed during much of that first viewing. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s narration (and absolutely spot-on French accent) was immediately disarming, I felt that the film had an almost too-whimsical quality for its own good that first go-round. This was, after all, a completely true story about an artistic “coup” (as Petit calls it continually throughout) which could have gone terribly wrong at any point. Yet the film always stayed hopeful and light-hearted rather than ever being truly heart-stopping or overly tense. But I finally began to realize that that had been the entire point. The film wasn’t just portraying Petit’s passion for this dream – it actually attempts to embody that passion as a film and as an experience. It lets us see and feel the exuberance that Petit must have felt in achieving the impossible and giving life to the inanimate. It made me feel the innocence of the world that perhaps has never returned to us in that form since 2001. I can think of no rarer or more precious gift any film has given me in modern memory. And in retrospect, I felt that in every frame of The Walk. Yet never did I feel it more deeply than in its final moment, which with a single word serves as a possibly more profound testament to the love and loss we all still feel than any documentary could have ever done.
Video: How’s it look?
If ever there was a visually-ambitious film, it’s got to be this. I’ll cover the 3D version below, but this first portion will cover the standard 2D feature. Sony’s presentation of The Walk is nothing short of spectacular. Robert Zemeckis has made a name for himself as one of the more tech-savvy directors in Hollywood and we need to only look to films like The Polar Express or Forrest Gump to experience that. The film is narrated by Levitt’s character (standing atop the Statue of Liberty, no less) which gives us sweeping visuals of New York. Admittedly it’s a bit odd to see a new film with the twin towers adorning the skyline, but the film took place in the mid 70’s, so that’s to be kept in mind. Simply put, everything looks amazing. The CGI are spot on, attention to detail is quite obvious and I’m hard-pressed to find anything to really complain about. The 2.40:1 AVC HD image gives us plenty of real estate to take it all in and every inch of that space is used.
Moving onto the 3D portion, this is where things get a bit more interesting…I’ll come out and say that this was the first movie that I watched on my new television and either the 3D technology has improved in Blu-ray’s or in TV’s – or both. I’d read that some audience members were so engrossed in this film during its theatrical run that there were even reports of people getting sick to their stomachs while watching the film. If that isn’t a good use of 3D then I don’t know what is. Having said that, the 3D version takes us a little beyond what the 2D version did. There were a few moments where I really felt as if I was in the film. That’s a cool experience. Certainly the film escalates when the actual walk takes place and it gives an immersive experience that’s hard to put into words. The sheer sense of height and depth are what I felt as if you’re right there on the wire with him. Admittedly I don’t have a lot of other 3D films in my collection to compare this to, but I’ll say that the film really does make adequate use of this technology. Each scene has layers that really draw the audience member into the film. And that’s the point.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is both immersive and and experience at the same time. While not as in your face as other titles, the more subdued atmospheric track envelopes the viewer, making a very unique experience. Vocals are rich and crisp, Levitt’s French accent has echoes of Pepé Le Pew, though in his defense I feel it’s pretty spot on. What’s more impressive about this track is that it really works in concert with what’s happening on screen. I realize that’s the case with every movie, but with this one in particular it really helps to convey the emotion that’s happening on screen. The camera pans and the sound is echoed in back and so on. It’s quite the unique experience. This proof that “less is more” and it works perfectly here.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Philippe Carries Annie
Wire Rigging Lesson
JP and Annie See David
JP Finds Annie
Philippe Signs Off
Central Park Walk
First Steps – Learning to Walk the Wire – A look at the truth of the film, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s preparation for the role as well as his training for the physical nature of it and a few other interviews.
Pillars of Support – A look at the supporting cast in the film with some behind the scenes footage as well as some interviews.
The Amazing Walk – Your standard EPK of the film with some pretty interesting footage about what made the look and feel of this movie so special, what it took to convert it to 3D and some of the choreography involved.
Previews – Additional Sony titles are featured.
The Bottom Line
The Walk failed to ignite the box office. I don’t think it was supposed to. Still, I feel certain that come awards time that this will at least be given a nod for visual effects and maybe even one for Levitt in the Best Actor category. The Blu-ray’s visual and audio presentations are amazing with the 3D being a reference-quality experience. I’d recommend this as a purchase if for no other reason than to experience the 3D version of the film.