Robert Zemeckis The Walk is all about the walk. That to say, the movie comes to dazzling life in its spectacular final 40 minutes or so, when Philippe Petit, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, saunters out on a cable and gives us a vertiginous view of the French tightrope walker 1974 aerial feat, as he tiptoed across the clouds between the towers of the World Trade Center. Harnessing the wizardry of 3D IMAX to magnify the sheer transporting wonder, the you are there thrill of the experience, the film payoff more than compensates for a lumbering setup, laden with cloying voiceover narration and strained whimsy.
Zemeckis delivery of such a sustained money shot literally breathtaking, stomach churning, sweat inducing and exhilarating should ensure solid numbers for Sony. American audiences, in particular, will respond to the unspoken coda of the Twin Towers destruction, which gives the film an emotional resonance that might otherwise have been more muted.
Sharing screenwriting credit with newcomer Christopher Browne, Zemeckis adapted the true story from Petit memoir, To Reach the Clouds. The director goes back to his Forrest Gump playbook by having his protagonist narrate the story every painstaking step of the way. This proves a big hurdle as Gordon Levitt mop top Philippe opens with some cringe inducing direct address, musing on the obvious question of Why Pourquoi in a cheesy French accent. The clunky framing device gets worse when the camera pans back to find him perched in the Statue of Liberty torch, although the digital recreation of early 70 Lower Manhattan that he surveys is indeed impressive.