‘The Walk’ excites audiences despite lack of supporting character development

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Philippe Petit in the new drama "The Walk", based on the true story of Petit walking on a tightrope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Photo courtesy Christopher William Adach

When “Man on Wire” won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2009, the film’s subject, tightrope walker Philippe Petit, thanked the Academy for “believing in magic” before balancing the Oscar statuette upside down on his nose. Petit’s new 3D biopic “The Walk” attempts to capture that same magic and heavily succeeds in incorporating all the anticipated thrills.

“The Walk,” directed by Robert Zemeckis, who is famous for his work on “Forrest Gump” and “Back to the Future,” is set in 1974. It focuses on Petit’s (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) attempt to walk across a high wire hung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Using a ragtag crew of accomplices, Petit arranges a coup that will allow them to sneak onto the rooftop overnight to pull off this heavily dangerous and illegal stunt, but a series of difficulties cause the crew to think that maybe this goal is sending Petit a little over the edge.

Zemeckis’s use of 3D technology does an incredible job of adding an extra dimension to the film. The scenes featuring Petit atop the World Trade Center use the sheer depth of his height to their greatest advantage. Even the gimmicks of objects popping out of the screen feel natural and enjoyable to watch. Some of them overstay their welcome slightly (the camera seems to linger on a cable hook for a while) but these elements bring the audience into the story in a way that most films this year haven’t managed to do.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on point as Petit. The real figure has always come across in every interview as charismatic, witty and a generally enjoyable person to be around, and Gordon-Levitt captures that aspect of his personality quite well. His character remains likable enough that the audience wants to see him complete his dream act. Just as well, Gordon-Levitt and the filmmakers are able to capture the darker side of his goal, as his desire for perfection begins to drive everyone around him mad.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast seems to take a back seat to Gordon-Levitt’s performance. The audience never learns much about anyone else despite the fact that many of them have interesting characteristics that could make their own story, including a crew member with acrophobia. Eventually, the characters get to the point where most of their names become interchangeable. Petit’s girlfriend Allie (Charlotte Le Bon) is an exception to this, largely because she is the only named female character in the entire film.

However, this lack of supporting character development doesn’t stop “The Walk” from being one of the most exhilarating films of this year. If your pulse isn’t racing by the time Gordon-Levitt sets foot on the wire, you might want to get it checked.

Featured image courtesy Christopher William Adach.