‘The Walk’ review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt a highwire hero

“The Walk” is Robert Zemeckis’ take on Philippe Petit’s famous 1974 World Trade Center high wire act.

Most movies are released in IMAX 3-D purely as a financial ploy, to wrest every last dollar from your wallet.

They don’t need to be seen on the biggest possible screen, in the most possible dimensions.

“The Walk,” Robert Zemeckis’ take on Philippe Petit’s famous 1974 World Trade Center high wire act, demands to be seen in that format.

The filmmaker of “Back to the Future” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” is unsurpassed in terms of technical prowess among his contemporaries, at least this side of Steven Spielberg, and he has achieved an extraordinarily intense rendering of what it must have felt like to walk between the towers on a wire.

Seriously. The reports of individuals vomiting after the New York Film Festival premiere must be believed. With close-ups on Petit’s tenuous foot steps, the camera zooming and soaring into thin air and plenty of high angles framing the artist against the street 110 stories below, it is a marvel of virtual reality, a movie of such verisimilitude that it practically injects you with adrenaline.

The technology finally exists to tell Petit’s story like this and so it’s easy to see why Zemeckis was drawn to it, even though the Academy Award-winning documentary “Man on Wire” stands as the definitive accounting of Petit’s “coup.”

Beyond the immaculate 3-D, Zemeckis treats the Petit story as a storybook tale rather than a heist thriller, as did “Man on Wire” filmmaker James Marsh. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as Petit, practically pirouettes across each frame when he isn’t narrating the film from the Statue of Liberty’s torch. Everything is pitched at such a frenzy that a true story plays like a bubbly studio fantasy, until Petit steps onto the WTC roof and everything changes.

Robert Levin