It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
In terms of sheer directorial craft, "The Walk" is masterful, but as storytelling, it's a near-disaster.
That's too bad, because nobody does visceral like Robert Zemeckis. Even in his less-than-great films, there are always two or three sequences that dazzle the viewer, often by evoking the sights and sounds of an extraordinary experience in such a way that you feel as if you're participating in them along with the characters. "The Walk," Zemeckis' account of Phillippe Petit's 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers of the old World Trade Center, would seem to be the ultimate Zemeckis set piece, rivaling the awesomeness of the plane crash and island sequences of "Cast Away," the upside-down jet maneuver in "Flight," the intergalactic wormhole trips in "Contact," and the small-scaled relentlessness of the suspense sequences in his under-appreciated 2000 thriller "What Lies Beneath" (which wrung tremendous excitement from the question of whether a nearly paralyzed woman could use her big toe to remove the stopper from a bathtub drain).
The final half-hour of "The Walk" is on that level. It's hard to imagine how it could have done a better job imagining every physical detail of the hero's unmatched physical achievement. Following the movie's New York Film Festival premiere, there were reports of people throwing up in the men's room after suffering virtual vertigo while watching Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) stroll, turn and even lie down upon a cable stretched between the towers. In this respect, "The Walk" does not disappoint. Zemeckis is on a short list, along with Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock, of filmmakers who understand how to fuse audacity with simplicity, so that the scale of the flourishes in their biggest sequences is wed to recognizable emotions. He makes sure that you don't just understand how Petit did what he did, but what he might have been feeling during every step of his journey, and what he saw and heard. The metallic creak of the cable as Petit walks; the rustle and hiss of wind passing over his clothes and through his hair; the muffled sound of traffic noises floating up from 110 stories below: "The Walk" makes these and other sensations palpable, along with Petit's delight, defiance and moments of doubt and fear.
If only Zemeckis had faith in his filmmaking power! What "The Walk" is missing, unfortunately, is an ability to recognize when poetry and mystery are enough and should be left alone to breathe. Here is a movie about a man whose life was defined by a
daring, unprecedented and now un-repeatable artistic feat (transforming boxy skyscrapers into a stage high above
North America's largest city) and who achieved that feat by trusting in his
training and bravery and will. But the script, credited to Zemeckis and Christopher Browne, begins diminishing his achievement immediately with tedious chatter, and can't stop doing it.