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Family Movie Review: The Walk (PG)

TheWalk ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 124 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. The film is about a man walking on a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center, and the film’s use of 3D makes this extremely believable, so anyone very afraid of heights or susceptible to vertigo should probably stay away. Some cursing, some kissing, some characters are shown after smoking marijuana, a couple shown sleeping in bed together, a bloody wound from a man stepping on a nail, and the protagonist imagines his body falling from the tower.

‘The Walk’ is a gripping 45 minutes of movie tacked onto a not-so-gripping other 80 minutes of movie. The film’s use of 3D and IMAX is engrossing and invigorating, but the rest of the movie pales in comparison.

By Roxana Hadadi

Some films use technology to mask simple stories, like 2013’s “Gravity,” and some films use technology to immerse the audience, like “The Walk.” There is no point in seeing this film not in 3D or not in IMAX, so don’t bother. It’s the film’s final act, when French performer Philippe Petit walks the 100-plus feet between the World Trade Center towers on only a wire, that is brought to terrifying, invigorating life through those effects. Seeing it without totally experiencing it would be beside the point.

Beside the point not only because “The Walk” is thoroughly brought to life during those final 45 minutes, but also because there is an excellent documentary on Petit’s walk, “Man on Wire,” that already exists and tells this story fully. So “The Walk” needs that technology to set itself apart, to make itself worth watching. And because the rest of the film is so uneven, the film relies on those 45 minutes, and on your involvement with them. To not be thoroughly drawn in would be to miss the film’s crowning achievement.

“Why do you walk on the wire? Why do you tempt fate? Why do you risk death?” French high walker and performer Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, of “The Wind Rises”) recites the questions asked of him in the beginning of “The Walk,” and the rest of the film is spent exploring their answers. Enthralled by wire walking after seeing the circus in his small French hometown, Petit grows up practicing until the walk is second nature, until he can traipse between forests and across circus tents using the wire. His passion irritates his parents — “My son, the circus clown,” mocks his pilot father before throwing him out — but he has a mentor figure in Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley, of “Self/Less”), a legendary wire walker who takes Petit under his wing.

And Petit needs all the help he can get with his seemingly impossible goal: Threading a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center, the construction of which he sees highlighted in a magazine. It’s the late 1970s, and the World Trade Center towers are the tallest buildings in the world, and Petit wants to walk on a wire between them. The man may be mad, but he gathers his conspirators around him for this highly illegal act, including girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon, of “The Hundred-Foot Journey”), a street performer of her own who first met Petit when he stole her crowd, and photographer and friend Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony, of “The Hundred-Foot Journey”), and they all travel to New York City to begin their preparations.

“You think you are invincible, you are going to die,” admonishes Papa Rudy, and so the second half of the film focuses on Petit’s preparations and the almost heist-like air of the proceedings, with disguises, spycraft, breaking and entering, and a variety of other crimes committed in pursuit of the walk. But when Petit is up there, on an “island floating in midair, on the edge of the world,” “The Walk” hits its unmistakably unforgettable stride. You will sit on the edge of your seat, grab the person next to you, and peer out from between your fingers when Petit starts his walk, and when he dances on the wire, and when he lays down on it. It is insane, and it cannot be missed.

It helps that Gordon-Levitt is a graceful, lithe performer, and you can see his months of training in the work he does here. His performance of a man who is a little mad is a good one, and he holds his own with the excellent Kingsley. But the biggest mistake of “The Walk,” aside from uneven character development and a sometimes-cheesy script, is that it forces Gordon-Levitt to narrate every single thing that happens onscreen, and the film’s overexplanation is an unnecessary burden. Whenever the film cuts to Petit, delivering his narration from the lantern of the Statue of Liberty, you’re taken out of the actual film. It’s a useless barrage that discredits the audience and their ability to pay attention, and it is the film’s greatest flaw.

But that final act! That walk! So much of the film’s errors can be forgiven for that, and for how the film honors the World Trade Center, and for how it acknowledges the unifying nature of an impossible act. “We showed the world that’s anything’s possible,” Petit’s comrades agree, and there’s a comfort and optimism in that which makes “The Walk” worthwhile.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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