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Talks the talk, walks The Walk 

Rating: ***

THE WALK
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Robert Zemeckis
STARS Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Walk (Photo: TriStar)
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt in The Walk (Photo: TriStar)

Released in 2008, Man on Wire told the amazing true story of Philippe Petit, a French high-wire walker who in the 1970s could always be found risking his life climbing and traversing high points of note (including Notre Dame and Sydney Bridge). When Petit learned of plans to construct the World Trade Center, he waited impatiently over the years for the Twin Towers to become a reality, at which point he and his supporters plotted to set up a line between the two buildings so that he could cross over with only a thin wire under his feet. Mixing modern re-enactments and interviews with awe-inspiring archival footage, the film proved to be a giddy watch and snagged the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Realizing this story was too great to keep relegated to the documentary graveyard — Man on Wire grossed $3 million, which is solid for a nonfiction feature but pocket change compared to multiplex moneymakers — director Robert Zemeckis has responded with The Walk, a thrilling dramatization of this historic event. With such titles as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump, Zemeckis has shown that he's one of those exemplary filmmakers who can wade knee-deep into dazzling effects work without ever losing sight of the piece's pathos and humanity (The Polar Express was the rare time he failed), and this latest picture follows suit. It takes its time acquainting us with Petit (charmingly played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his comrades in arms, fellow visionaries who have all agreed to help him achieve his goal of spanning that imposing empty space between the two towers. It covers the preparations intently, taking care to dot every cinematic i and cross every celluloid t. Only then does Zemeckis hit us with the spectacle: The final half-hour, as Petit takes to the wire, is basically one sustained money shot, with superb effects conveying not only the sheer lunacy of the undertaking but also the determination of one man to achieve the seemingly impossible.

"Why do you want to climb the mountain?" someone asks the daredevils in the recent Everest, to which the response is the predictable "Because it's there." Petit might be expected to make a similar declaration but never does — a surprise, given the degree of arrogance he sometimes flashes. Like an Icarus for our time, he dares to skip across the sky, and anyone not familiar with the outcome will be anxious to learn whether he similarly gets burned.

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