Review: The Walk
You practically couldn’t turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or browse the Internet last week without being reminded of the horrible, devastating events of September 11, 2001. I started watching ABC’s Women of 9/11 and had to turn it off because it just made me feel too upset, with women recounting first-hand horrifying accounts that I couldn’t get out of my head even days later. Though 20 years have passed, the rawness of that day is still incredibly fresh, with nearly everyone remembering where they were and what they were doing, and having some story related to how 9/11 touched them or their lives.
While numerous movies and documentaries have been made about that day, I thought I would take this opportunity to review a film that takes a different, uplifting look at those two magnificent towers: Robert Zemeckis’s 2015 The Walk.
The movie looks at the “triumphant true story” of performer Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his “artistic coup of the century” of secretly stringing a cable across the 140-foot expanse between the tops of the north and south towers and performing a daredevil walk 1,312 feet above the ground on the morning of August 7, 1974.
While this event was previously the subject of a 2008 documentary titled Man on Wire (available via Kaleidescape and other digital retailers)—in which Petit (who is still very much alive) took part—as well as Petit’s own 2002 novel To
THE WALK AT A GLANCE
This 2015 film celebrates the 1974 tight-rope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center.
Even at “just” a 2K DI, we get a lot of sharpness and detail, with the street scenes in Paris sharp, detailed, and full of depth.
The all-important dialogue is always clean and anchored to the center, with some nice ambient audio when called for.
Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers, The Walk gives us a not only a look into his life and the events that led up to his feat but, through the benefit of special effects, allows us to actually relive the walk as well as be up on the wire with Petit. (No actual footage of Petit performing his walk across the towers seem to exist.)
The film has the feel of a heist or caper movie. Even Alan Silvestri’s score reminded me of the music in Pixar’s The Incredibles. As you can imagine, this walk was not exactly sanctioned or legal, and much of the movie deals with how Petit assembles his band of accomplices, trains and prepares for the walk, scouts out the towers to learn floor layouts and security schedules, manages to secretly get all of the equipment necessary up to the top of the towers, and ultimately pulls off his 45-minute walk.
While everything leads up to the film’s big payoff of the actual walk, Gordon-Levitt’s enthusiasm, accent, and command of French do a great job of channeling the unwavering enthusiasm and single-mindedness of Petit, who actually trained Levitt to wire walk during the filming. You also get a real sense of how the towers loomed large over life in the city.
At just over two hours, it might be a bit lengthy for younger viewers—especially those unable to read the English subtitles while characters are speaking French—but this PG-rated film is about as family-friendly as they come.
Filmed at 6K resolution, the transfer is taken from a 2K digital intermediate. Ideally, The Walk was meant to be viewed in IMAX 3D. As Zemeckis said, we are normally only ever able to experience a high-wire walk from the ground, looking up, but now we can be up on the wire with him, looking down, with 3D giving incredible depth and perspective to the experience. Unfortunately, 3D has mostly ceased to exist as a format, and for now, we have the next best thing, which is a 4K HDR transfer.
Much, if not all, of lower Manhattan is digitally recreated here, and some of the buildings/shots have a bit of a CGI-look, especially the opening where Levitt is standing atop the Statue of Liberty beginning his story. But for the most part, it’s easy to just buy into the visuals and sit back and enjoy lower Manhattan as it looked in 1974 as construction on the towers was being completed, especially as we get to the film’s payoff with Petit up on the wire, as we can look down into the void with incredible depth and dimension, NYC laid out in splendor far below in the dawn light.
Even at “just” a 2K DI, we get a lot of sharpness and detail, with just a couple of scenes—notably the first time we see the immensity of the towers from the ground up—where there is a bit of line shimmer. Outdoor, daylight scenes always seem to really look their best in HDR, and the street scenes in Paris are sharp, detailed, and full of depth, as is the architecture of Notre Dame cathedral, where Petit performs one of his earlier elicit walks. Closeups reveal tons of detail in actors’ faces, as well as letting you appreciate the various textures of stone, painted wood, steel, and concrete structures, or see the fine detail in the walk cable.
There are a lot of early-morning and low-light shots—such as a scene where Levitt and one of his accomplices hide out on a construction girder in one of the tower’s elevator shafts—that benefit from HDR, with rich, deep blacks and nice shadow
detail. Watching on my OLED, there are numerous scenes where just the smallest bit of picture information is presented above full black. The opening scenes of Petit in Paris are also shown in super-contrasty black and white, with deep, clean blacks and vibrant whites that reminded me of photographs shot on Kodak Professional black & white film. The night shots of Paris also really pop, and there are some eye-reactive lightning strikes during one storm. We also get some wonderful, rich, warm lighting during a candlelit conversation between Petit and his girlfriend, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), as well as bright yellows and reds at the construction site, and just the deep shadows of lower Manhattan laid out in the glowing orange morning light.
The 4K HDR release receives the same 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master audio track as the original Blu-ray, but it is certainly serviceable. The most important part of the soundtrack is the dialogue, and it is always clean and anchored to the center. There is some nice ambient audio when called for, such as street traffic or the sounds of construction within the towers, and then more specific audio cues, such as the groaning and straining of the cable as it is being stretched and walked on, or the swirling and whistling of winds high-up while Petit is walking.
Parts of the audio are certainly enhanced by a modern processor’s upmixer, with
rolling thunder and pelting rain being mixed up overhead and all around the room, or a helicopter swirling around overhead along with the booming voice from a PA as they call for Petit to get off the wire.
A bit of fact checking at HistoryvsHollywood.com, “The Walk Movie vs. True Story of Philippe Petit, Man on Wire” reveals that much of what we see in The Walk is as it happened, with a bit of time compression thrown in for the effect of telling the story.
For me, this was the uplifting story about the towers I needed to see, a way of remembering them for this one crazy, insane, brief moment where they were full of promise, hope, and greatness.
I don’t think there is a better conclusion than this bit of dialogue from the film:
“You know Philippe, the towers seem different. They’re different now.”
“That’s right. They’re different because you walked up there. Every New Yorker I talk to now says they love these towers.”
“Perhaps you brought them to life, Philippe—given them a soul.”
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.