'The Walk' Early Buzz: Does Robert Zemeckis' High Wire Act Deliver A Good Show?

The New York Film Festival is in full swing, and this past weekend brought the premiere of Robert Zemeckis' drama The Walk, a narrative chronicle of the real life stunt featured in the documentary Man on Wire, where French high wire artist Philippe Petit walked across a high wire placed between the Twin Towers in 1974.

Now that the film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been seen, some of The Walk early buzz has hit the web, and at the very least, it sounds like there's plenty of suspense and thrills to be found, even if the move as a whole seems to stumble a bit here and there.

Here's what some of the reviews out of NYFF had to say:

Edward Douglas for ComingSoon.net:

"The Walk could very well have been a disaster especially after the less-than-spectacular opening, but by the end, Robert Zemeckis really nails Petit's story, not only capturing the technicality of his famous wire walk but also capturing the emotional resonance it had for those who were there, including Petit. It's ultimately as entertaining and moving as Man on Wire only on a far grander scale. "

Bryan Bishop for The Verge:

"In the film, the use of IMAX 3D is incredibly effective — but it's a visual tool, working in concert with the character work and emotional attachment that the movie has already built up. My heart was racing because I was concerned about Petit the character; I leaned forward because I was worried what his girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) would see as she watched from below. And I wasn't having an isolated experience in some clunky plastic headset; I was in a theater, feeding off the anxiety and energy of every other person watching at the same time.

I don't know that I've ever told a friend or colleague to see a film for a single sequence, but The Walk is easily reason enough to break that rule. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the film as a whole — I found it beautiful, both in its romantic devotion to Petit's artistic ideals and to the way it eventually addresses the latent melancholy that one can't help but feel when gazing upon the digitally recreated World Trade Center. But the highlight sequence of The Walk serves as a testament to cinema's transportive power, and a potent reminder that even generally bland gimmicks like 3D can become effective tools."

A.O. Scott for The New York Times:

"Even though the outcome is never in doubt — this may be the most spoiler-proof movie ever made — you can't help but hold your breath and clutch the armrests when Philippe steps out into the sky. The reality of the moment is so vivid that you may reflexively recoil, as if you risked plunging onto the sidewalk below. And the moment lasts. I had forgotten just how long Mr. Petit stayed up there, stretching a daredevil act into an astonishing and durable work of art.

In paying tribute to that accomplishment, Mr. Zemeckis has also matched it. He has used all his brazenness and skill to make something that, once it leaves the ground, defies not only gravity, but time as well."

Peter Debruge for Variety:

"Much of what made "Man on Wire" so thrilling was the fact that Marsh had approached Petit's story like a caper film. Though Zemeckis follows a more linear trajectory — spending the better part of the pokey first hour in Paris, where Philippe falls for street musician Annie (saucer-eyed Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon) and enlists her photographer friend Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony) — "The Walk" shares the white-knuckle sense that the World Trade Center performance must be planned and executed with the precision of a bank heist, a sensibility reflected in Alan Silvestri's light-string score, which alternates between insistent and inspiring as the suspense level requires."

Scott Mendelson for Forbes:

"Once Gordon-Levitt steps out on the wire, well, that's why I'm giving this movie a "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes instead of a "rotten." The actual payoff is a captivating, suspenseful, and gloriously engaging reenactment of an impossible feat. Even though we know what did and didn't happen, it's still terrifying, and you'll be holding your breath from beginning to end. It is a truly beautiful and exhilarating bit of filmmaking, and yes it absolutely justifies the IMAX 3D treatment. I don't know how the film plays in regular 2D theatres, but like The Polar Express eleven years ago it plays like gangbusters in its intended format.

The Walk offers a genuinely unique cinematic experience in precisely the manner that it promises. I wish the warm up act was as good as the main attraction, and I desperately wish someone would have canned the voiceover-as-storytelling device, but c'est la vie."

Nigel M. Smith for The Guardian:

"From the cornball introduction, which has Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Petit talking directly to the audience from the top of the Statue of Liberty with the world trade centre in sun-kissed background, The Walk is nothing if not consistent. For the whole of its two-hour running time, it plays like a Disney cartoon, right down to the hammy sidekicks who aid Petit on his mission (the exception is Petit's girlfriend, Annie Allix, who Charlotte Le Bon somehow suggests may be a living, breathing person). The less said about Ben Kingsley's tough-love Gallic trainer the better.

The story The Walk tells is, admittedly, an unbelievable one, so it's understandable Zemeckis should choose to leave subtlety at the door. Sadly such an approach strips the film of tension, especially at the crucial moment. That said, although risk feels intangible, the key sequence when Petit inches across still looks awesome, especially in vertigo-inducing 3D.

Shame, then, that these spectacular visuals are undercut with silly voiceover which has Gordon-Levitt explaining his thought-processes every step of the way. If immersion was the point, why undercut it so fatally? Such counterpoint means even when The Walk inspires the eyes, the brain registers little but banality."

Here's some Twitter reactions from the New York Film Festival too:

Judging by the reviews, it sounds like the first two-thirds of the movie are entertaining, but not quite great. However, it's the third act that seems to make this a must-see on the biggest screen possible, perhaps even making the 3D surcharge worth the price this time.

Zemeckis seems to have told this tale without much subtlety, but most of the reviews weren't necessarily put off by it all the time, if only because the tone and style was consistent throughout. And again, the finale seems to have convinced many to forgive some of the movie's earlier shortcomings.

You can find out for yourself when The Walk hits theaters on September 30th.