The Walk

Robert Zemeckis has given us The Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Contact, Cast Away and Flight. These are formidable works that strike a cultural nerve and straddle past, present and future. Indeed, Mr. Zemeckis has a way of transporting us across the space-time continuum with flair and style. He weaves humanism into his stories of adventure, sometimes to make a point, sometimes to simply entertain.

The Walk

His latest film, The Walk, seems to be a clear labor of love. It’s based on Philippe Petit’s book To Reach the Clouds. Mr. Petit’s walk between the World Trade Center towers in 1974 stands as one of the most amazing human accomplishments ever, driven entirely by necessity, courage and the belief that art should play on a larger stage. His story becomes more important with each passing year we live in a post Tower world. This fact alone is more than a sufficient reason to bring the story back for a modern look.

Mr. Petit named his project le coup. it was by definition done undercover and on a tight budget. There was no investment put into capturing it beyond the amateur photographer accomplices who wore many hats that day, including the unlikely role of archer. Hence we have only grainy and mostly black and white archive images of his amazing feat. James Marsh’s 2008 Oscar winning feature documentary Man on Wire was the first time we got an up close look at Mr. Petit and his carefully planned caper. His documentary is the definitive chronology of what happened in New York on August 7, 1974, and I watch it every year on September 11th.

The Walk borrows heavily from documentary style that includes frequent cuts back to Philippe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, perpetually perched on the torch of Lady Liberty. It leverages much of what was in Man on Wire, because that’s what’s written in To Reach the Clouds. It validates Mr. Marsh’s work allowing Mr. Zemeckis to focus his 3D, IMAX, big Hollywood budget on putting us on the high wire.

The early reels of the film seem to be from another story. We learn how Mr. Petit came to be drawn by the lure of the wire. There are sequences from his childhood that briefly include his parents and his early mentor, Papa Rudy, played by Ben Kingsley, who apparently can’t function without his hat or his dogs. He meets Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Both are street performers in search of a dream. Mr. Petit has his dream clearly defined and is now on a journey to attract the people and fortune to carry it out.

Wire Walking

Mr. Gordon-Levitt has taken some flack for his accent in many reviews. When I look at his performance on the whole, he delivers on the things that matter. Heart, passion, drive and art. He captured Mr. Petit’s ability to envision and then achieve something most of us don’t even think about. The quality of his accent is of little importance in my mind.

Philippe and Annie make their way to New York and emerge from the subway to the staggering sight and enormity of the Towers. Momentarily discouraged Philippe is given and opening. A door is left ajar and he runs through it, climbing the stairs to the top of the Tower. Once there. Once he looks at the void between the twins, his will is cemented.

A band of characters is assembled to pull off the caper, but there ends up being just a couple who are committed enough to Philippe’s dream to see it through. On the day they decide to carry out the feat, they face numerous obstacles, all of which are somehow magically disappeared. There was a moment when the cable had been hung and Philippe was ready to make the walk, when a businessman emerged from below, surveyed the situation and simply walked back down without saying a word. Perhaps the Towers themselves somehow intervened, seemingly longing what was likely the only above ground physical connection each would have with the other.

The last forty minutes will make you squirm as the wire walker performs. In the documentary Man on Wire, we don’t see any footage of Philippe walking the wire. Only stills. Mr. Zemeckis gives us that gift in The Walk. We are there for every step on the wire hastily strung and secured. It’s worth seeing in IMAX 3D and if you were ever in the Towers, or gazed up or looked down from the observation deck, be prepared for what you will feel.

WTC Pass

The technical aspects of the film are exceptional all around. Highly recommended and rated PG, so take your children and have that discussion. The official website is horrible. I’m so disappointed in how the studios uses their movie sites now.

Photo credits: Sony Pictures Entertainment, Magnolia Pictures

Another 9/11 Anniversary

It has been an astonishing eight years since that fateful morning. We watched the towers fall. It was less than two hours from impact to compression. I remember it as if was yesterday, maybe even today. I will be taking a moment to honor those who lost their lives or were permanently injured, and keep the surviving family members in my thoughts throughout the day.


There has been a lot of debate about what to do with the site. It’s not fully set yet, but the committee is getting closer to a final plan.


Visit the Lower Manhattan Development web site here.

I Am Legend – Film Review

If you’ve gotten this far you probably know that I Am Legend is a Vampire movie about the last man (almost) left alive on earth. It stars Will Smith as Robert Neville, a military scientist-type who has taken it on himself to find a cure and vaccine for a disease caused by a drug once thought to be a cure for cancer. Instead, it actually wiped out 90% of the human race (oops). That drug was developed by a woman scientist played in a cameo uncredited role by Emma Thompson. It took only three years for the hero drug to end up as the plague, and the film essentially begins at that point.

I went to see this picture primarily because I love to see big cities silent and empty. There is something eerie about it, as if you are in Rome, surveying the ruins of a lost civilization, but you have actually walked those streets. It transports me back to my childhood and my fascination with science and fiction. I Am Legend is based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel (same title) and this is the third adaptation of that story onto the big screen. The first was The Last Man on Earth (1964) starring Vincent Price, then again in 1974 with Charlton Heston playing The Omega Man. Of course I saw those films on television, as well as The World, The Flesh and the Devil (Harry Belafonte). The images of barren cities are forever etched in my mind.


Mr. Smith turns in a fine performance and is able to carry the story by himself, displaying both drama and comedy through a deserted, post apocalypse New York. According to the production notes (download pdf here), he prepared for months both physically and emotionally to take on the role, and it shows. Robert Neville’s military training has come in handy, helping him construct a fortress in Washington Square. It’s outfitted with blast doors, power generators and an impressive lab in the basement.

All of the citizens of New York (and the rest of the world) have perished either through breathing the virus or being killed and eaten by the less fortunate ones who have become zombie/vampires. Mutants who cannot survive in daylight, have lost all notion of “typical human behavior,” are super strong and quite nasty.


Lt. Colonel Neville attempts to construct a typical day in his new atypical world. Eat, exercise, make a selection at the video store, flirt, shop, garden, even visit The Met. His house is adorned with original art–a Van Gogh hangs above his plasma flat screen in the living room. I would have done the same thing. No strike that, I would have moved into The Met. But Robert does something I probably wouldn’t have. He captures mutants and takes them to his lab for clinical trials in an effort to find a cure. He has been unsuccessful.

Robert has a close and only companion in Sam, a German Shepherd. Sam is child, wife (Samantha), friend and confidant. Sam is attacked by mutant dogs when Robert gets caught in a zombie trap he originally used on them, and barely escapes. He snaps and goes out at night to rundown as many mutants as he can. They actually overpower him and he is saved in the nick of time by Anna (Alice Braga) and her son Ethan (Charlie Tahan), who have heard his broadcasts over the airwaves.

Anna provides Robert with the human inspiration that has been missing for so long. An all out attack is mounted by the vampires, with their alpha male in the lead (played with raw power by Dash Mihok). Good and evil have a final showdown, while hope and the future of the human race hang in the balance.

The director, Francis Lawrence, effectively injects flashbacks, giving us some perspective into Robert’s drive and motivation. But for me it is all too expected. The pieces fall into place too easily. Technically the film is first rate. The dialog (monologue mostly) is engaging and Mr. Lawrence’s pacing keeps the story hurtling forward. So many details are right, but in the end, the film doesn’t rise beyond a routine science fiction thriller.


I Am Legend is interesting to watch for you sci-fi fans out there, and the official web site has some cool features, like an interactive map of New York and a daylight meter that you can customize to your own zip code. But it will work just as well at home as a rental, especially if you have a good entertainment system. One thing I kept thinking about during the picture. Free rock star parking anywhere in New York. Sweet.