There are daredevils and then there’s Philippe Petit. The French high-wire artist is more than a daredevil, he’s a thrill seeker that words can barely describe. He gained international attention in 1974 when he illegally walked across a high-wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center. It was a dazzling feat and the story of how it all came about is almost as interesting as the act itself. Petit’s stunt had already been covered in the fantastic documentary Man on Wire, but director Robert Zemeckis has developed the story into a big-budget Hollywood dramatization. One would hope that Zemeckis would be able to bring something new to the table, but for anyone who already knows Petit’s story, this is a pretty unremarkable retelling. It’s competently made and it certainly has its fun moments, but it’s a bit of a disappointment given the awesome story at its core.

The film opens with narration from Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) atop the Statue of Liberty and this is where he tells his story to the audience. At first his narration is cute, but Zemeckis and co-screenwriter Christopher Browne lean on this storytelling device like a crutch. Petite takes us back to his early days in France where he dreamed of becoming a high-wire artist. After sneaking into a circus tent to practice, he meets a veteran high-wire artist named Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) who eventually becomes Petit’s mentor. Petit also falls for a beautiful musician named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and becomes friends with a photographer named Jean-Louis (Clément Sibomy). While flipping through a magazine at the dentist’s office, Petit notices a picture of the soon to be completed Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Petit just found the perfect place to hang his wire, but he’s going to need to break a lot of laws if he’s going to hang on top of the world.

Like many films based on actual events, The Walk succeeds due to the power of its true story and not because of the craft that went into the film. Zemeckis has made some amazing films throughout his career, but his last few have lacked the magic touch that usually accomplishes his best efforts. He tries to make the story of Phillipe Petit feel magical, but there’s just something missing from the film that prevents it from feeling moving. Almost all of the characters surrounding Petit are one-dimensional and the film seems to throw together his plan so quickly that you can hardly appreciate the strategy that went into this incredible feat. And despite his character’s near-constant narration, the screenplay barely looks into why Petit would attempt something so dangerous and it never feels like we learn enough about who he really is.

But once Petit and his comrades puts their plan into action, the film picks up significantly. Even if you know the outcome of the story, watching them break into the World Trade Center and attempt to tie a wire in between the two buildings is very entertaining. Fantastic visual effects make you feel like you’re right up on top of the two buildings with them and Zemeckis is able to turn up the suspense whenever Petit or one of his friends walk close to the edge of the building. But for some reason, the suspense completely disappears when Petit takes his first step onto the high-wire. This could be a result of already being familiar with the story or maybe Zemeckis didn’t intend for Petit’s walk to have any suspense at all. This comes as a disappointment though, because feeling a sense of dizzying vertigo while on the wire would have been something that would have separated this film from the documentary Man on Wire.

Ultimately, The Walk walks a fine line that straddles somewhere slightly above mediocrity. It’s a very watchable film from beginning to end, but it fails to live up to the power of its true story. Even with a goofy French accent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is charming in the lead role and the beautiful score from Alan Silvestri is easily the greatest thing about the entire film. Those unfamiliar with Petit’s incredible stunt are likely to find something to enjoy here, but those that already know how this story plays out will likely find the film mostly unremarkable.

The Walk receives 2.5/4

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