Skywalkers: A Love Story (2024)


Skywalkers: A Love Story Review

The movie “Skywalkers: A Love Story” achieves an entirely new significance for the term ‘nervousness.’ It is a documentary about the world of rooftoopers, which are the latest breed of daredevils who climb the highest buildings they can find and reach skyward on social media. They walk along beams, sprawl on ledges, and clamber up spindly, often curved towers that spring from the tops of high-rises like ladders made out of wobbly slats (which is what they are, close up). And it’s edited to within an inch of its life; Jeff Zimbalist, a former rooftopper himself, knows just when to cut away from one vertiginous shot to give us another.

The film puts us up there with these illegal thrill-seekers even if you don’t have fear-of-heights issues, those shots pack such a visceral punch that you might catch yourself tilting your head slightly one way or another as you try to keep “yourself” from falling off. If you do have fear of heights issues (and I’ll just raise my hand here), this thing will terrify and exhilarate you, most of the camera work was done by the climbers themselves with mounted cams and drones and selfie sticks, so everything has that dizzying wide-angle clarity that makes everything in it go “Woah!”

What turns “Skywalkers” into catharsis is that it’s about two big personalities dancing. What draws those personalities together their shared compulsion to turn risk into a kind of controlled madness, to make an art form out of roofs is also what drives them apart. This type of climbing tends to be criminal activity (trespassing and worse, particularly in some Asian countries) precisely because it’s so fearlessly self-reliant; it’s mountain climbing with an anti-social edge. But “Skywalkers” is not just a film about balancing on the tips of man-made mountains of steel and glass, it’s also about trust, desire, dread, transcendence.

Together they climb many buildings, that’s how they make a living. Vanya has already earned himself an army of Instagram followers and all the sponsors that come with it he’s a social media star. Then the pandemic comes crashing down on everything. Afterward, the war in Ukraine causes Russia to close off all social media platforms. Their fame is cut off, and so is the trust that brought them here.

It is amazing that this walk of his has never been captured on film, and in a way “Skywalkers” fills that gap. It gives us the catharsis of immersing ourselves in each moment of Vanya and Angela’s audacity. This is a movie for theaters, one sure to thrill crowds as surely as “Free Solo.” It’s also, like “Man on Wire,” a heist thriller (they have to climb around a stadium, through a half-built mall, walk a bridge into the skyscraper and then go up) once they’re climbing up the stairs they get spotted, so they have to hide in a concrete nook for more than 20 hours.

Angela is exhausted with a pounding headache and already nursing an arm injury by the time they’re ready to come out of that cave. This does not seem like triumph; it appears to be disaster. But what the Merdeka climb really amounts to is whether or not Angela can bring herself to trust in someone she feels with her proud heart will not be there for her. The film’s joy comes from showing you what love is really about: scaling the heights of devotion without a net, however dangerous it may be seen (through its dangling from a steel beam footage).

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