The Walk is Sweaty Spectacle

Not since “United 93” have my personal mitts been so sweaty inside a movie theater. The blockbuster rendition of wire-walker Phillipe Petit’s famous New York City stunt, so astutely observed in the acclaimed documentary “Man on Wire,” walks a tight-rope between kitschy French comedy and true-life drama, but when storied director Robert Zemeckis tackles that climactic feat of physical artistry and human achievement, “The Walk” comes to life. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is endearingly spirited as Petit, a man so addicted to the act that he sometimes alienates those around him, including the very people propping him up for this legally compromised mission. Ben Kingsley is wonderfully obtuse as Petit’s strict Czechian mentor, proving that Kingsley can play almost any ethnicity. Jimmy Badge, for his part, continues his streak of charismatic and eccentric characters as a well-traveled New Yorker with a zest for trouble. Charlotte Le Bon is less effective in a thankless role as Petit’s supportive girlfriend. Her and Levitt have little chemistry together and produce the antithesis of fireworks, whatever that is. Clement Sibony, Cesar Domboy, Ben Schwartz, and Steve Valentine round out the cast as varying degrees of French and American support, accomplices with much or nothing to lose. Overuse of narration and a languid second act threaten to derail narrative momentum, obstacles easily overcome by the time the meat of the caper commences. It’s been a while since a Robert Zemeckis flick possessed the sort of spectacle and pizzazz witnessed here, in a movie made for the big screen that harnesses all of his many gifts as a filmmaker. This is humorous, ambitious, well-oiled, crowd-pleasing entertainment at its near finest. The final walk itself is not only nail-biting, it’s inspiring, and it’s confirmation that 3D is an apt technology and an apt storytelling device when in the right hands. For the last hour my palms grew increasingly sweaty, like there was a tiny broken faucet in each hand that would not and did not relent. Not unlike “Gravity” or “Avatar,” the wizards behind the camera really work to put you there over one-hundred stories above Manhattan. For a dizzying film like “The Walk,” that’s a doozy.

Grade: A-

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