The Walk: Review


The use of 3d in film, has always been divisive. Arguments about whether it’s immersive, a distraction or simply an excuse for studios to make more money, have raged since the technology was first embraced by the industry.

When James Cameron’s Avatar was released in 2009, it was heralded as the first ever immersive 3d experience at the cinema, by audiences and critics alike – myself included. Now, however, it could be argued that the 3d in Cameron’s sci-fi mega-hit, is a gimmick that amounts to nothing more than floaty space creatures flying across, or rather through the screen.

For me, it was actually Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, which started to push the boundaries of the format, by using it as a narrative tool. Since Scorsese’s effort, however, I’ve not seen 3d been used in the same fantastical way – until now, as expert film maker, Robert Zemeckis, takes 3d to dizzying new heights, with The Walk. 

If you’ve seen James Marsh’s Oscar winning documentary, Man on Wire – and if you haven’t, then you really should – then you’ll be familiar with the true story of Philippe Petit, a tightrope walker who daringly walked across the void between the World Trade Centre’s twin towers in 1974. 

Here, Zemeckis takes that story and turns it into pure cinematic magic, the likes of which I haven’t seen in quite some time. It’s the type of film that cinema was made for, that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible to fully appreciate its eye-widening wonders. 

As a filmmaker, Zemeckis has alway seemed to be interested in the future of film, and fascinated with new and potentially game-changing technology.  With The Polar Express, he played around with motion capture with mixed results – to be fair, the dead-eyed animation was the least of the film’s problems – and now he’s taken a shot at live action 3d which, frankly, is the best use of the technology I’ve seen to date.

What the director has cleverly done, is used 3d as a way of drawing you into the picture, as opposed to throwing things out at you. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of moments which will make you jerk out of your seat out of fear of something poking you in the eye, but, the whole film is built around Petit’s tightrope walk – as the title suggests – and putting us right up there with him.

If you’ve ever stood atop a massively tall building and looked down at the street below, you’ll know how terrifying that sensation is; which makes you feel like you could fall at any second, despite the wall of wire around the roof.

In The Walk, Zemeckis plays with this notion and uses it to make a truly thrilling cinematic experience. As Petit – played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt – takes his first steps out onto the wire, your jaw will drop and your heart will be in your throat, as he looks out across the whole of Manhatten below him. 

This is just the beginning though, as the tension and the danger increases through the entirety of this final sequence. The fact that it draws you in to the point where you forget you’re even in the cinema anymore, is a huge achievement and just one of many successes within the film.

Whereas it’s technical triumph is certainly one of the film’s biggest selling points, it works on every other level too. The story itself, which may sound simple on the surface, is actually a complex one. Petit’s stunt was, after all, highly illegal as well as dangerous, so measures had to be put in place to ensure his tightrope walk would work. 

In the film, Petit actually calls his walk an ‘artistic coup’, but in truth it feels like more of a heist. Suitably, The Walk plays out like a heist flick, as Petit secures accomplices, each with a different skill-set,  and spies on, as well as infiltrates the twin towers. This element of the picture adds a great deal of fun to proceedings, playing out like Ocean’s Eleven, but instead of money being the prize, it’s the chance to put your life on the line. 

The casting is great and, despite my reservations, Levitt is an absolute delight as Petit. Despite being supported by a strong cast that includes Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale and Charlotte Le Bon, Levitt commands the screen the entire time.

With wonderful performances and some of the best cinematography I’ve seen so far this year – the sunrise over New York as Petit takes his first steps on the wire, is incredibly beautiful – The Walk could quite easily end up being the best film of the year. 

Robert Zemeckis has used his technical prowess to create a mystical, magical and absorbing film that entertains on every single level. It’s quite simply a masterpiece of cinema that deserves to be seen on the biggest and widest screen possible, so make sure to see it in IMAX while you can. You won’t be disappointed, but you might feel queasy afterwards. 

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