When I wrote about the campaign for The Walk earlier this year I was struck by the emphasis in the marketing on the spectacle of the movie. Most everything about the push played up the big visuals and the amazing sequences that would be on display in this fictionalized retelling of the story of Philippe Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his successful attempt in 1974 to walk a tightrope between the newly-completed World Trade Center towers in New York City.
Unfortunately the movie itself contained very little of the spectacle that was promised. That’s largely because 80% of the movie is prologue to the event itself and it’s not all that interesting at that. The entire first half of the movie is about Petit’s career as an amateur wire-walker and street performer in France, backstory that’s supposed to set him up as a crafty outsider who’s committed to his craft more than he is to following the law. All that is meant to show us that his WTC stunt is the logical extension of his personality. But none of that is very engaging.
That’s largely because of the narration and framing device that runs throughout the movie. Gordon-Levitt as Petit is positioned as the movie opens in the torch of the Statue of Liberty and provides running commentary throughout the movie, with it frequently cutting back to him so he can explain something and setup what’s about to come. That kills a lot of the momentum of the story and comes off as a lazy and clumsy way to provide some exposition. It’s not surprising that this part of the movie was completely excised from the marketing.
Also missing from the marketing campaign is almost all of that setup, all the prelude to the “coup” that Petit is planning. Of course the main appeal of the movie is to see the image of Gordon-Levitt pretending to walk the high wire and marvel at the visuals that have been created by Robert Zemeckis and his team, which are admittedly impressive. But there’s just so much movie to go through to get to that point that it becomes somewhat of a slog.
There’s nothing overtly misleading about the campaign compared to the full movie. But there was enough left out that people got a big chunk of exposition and backstory they likely weren’t expecting. While the last 30-45 minutes of the movie – where most of the trailer footage was pulled from – finally came alive, everything before that was dragging exposition that didn’t have any of the director’s usual sizzle or flair.