Synopsis – In 1974, high-wire artist Philippe Petit recruits a team of people to help him realize his dream: to walk the the immense void between the World Trade Center towers.
My Take – As a huge fan of Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away) & Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, Looper) it would be an understatement to say that I was highly anticipating this movie. Although I have never watched the documentary ‘Man on Wire‘ on Philippe Petit, something about the character walking between towers on a high wires & calling it ‘life’ intrigued me. Yes, director Robert Zameckis has brought us another thoroughly enjoyable film about Philippe Petit‘s high-wire walk between the World trade Center’s twin towers in 1974. It’s as romantic as Gump and addictive as Future with the added interest of a biopic that is true to its history. And of course as evident from the trailers, the film is clearly designed with idea of enthralling the viewers in IMAX 3D. You’ll find yourself wincing a couple of times and for anyone scared of heights; this film will get you a slightly anxious. The climax is spectacular and not for the faint hearted! The final hour is a sequence that stands as one of the year’s best. To watch Petit set up for the death-defying stunt was totally engaging, and seeing him take his first steps on the wire was a fantastic spectacle. Director Zemeckis focuses on is his time on the wire, walking back and forth, making daring moves, and utilizing 3D imagery to inflict real fear and anxiety into the audience. From a directorial standpoint, Zemeckis attempts to make the use of 3D as something to progress and tell the story impeccably, placing the audience right there on the wire. The film is told in a fairy-tale manner which allows for mystical type character development and the necessary magic for a journey of this nature. The narrative provided by Joseph Gordon-Levitt feels cringe-worthy at first, because of his attempt at the French accent, but becomes appealing and believable, due to the narrator styling. From the first moment we meet Petit talking to us from the top of the Statue of Liberty, and this story is about freedom if nothing else, we know we are in the presence of a man who has followed his dream and achieved it.
The film allows to dig really deep into Petit’s character and illustrate to the audience what drove this man to achieve his impossible dream. Also, I must add, the film finds a great way to justify its constant switches in languages between French and English. The story follows Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon- Levitt) who narrates his tale of his 1974 walk between the Twin Towers from the top of Statue of Liberty. We follow his journey from his obsession of being tight rope walker as a kid. Growing up in France, while performing entertaining feats on the streets he meets musician Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) & begins training with Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) in order make his illegal walk between the under construction / almost complete World Trade Centre Twin Towers. He assembles a team of French men (Clément Sibony & César Domboy) & Americans (Steve Valentine, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz & Benedict Samuel) to perform his coupe without any safety nets or harnesses. While the first half is just interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention, the final hour is where the film and Zemeckis really catch their strides. Elements of heist movies are thrown in to keep the audience on the edge of their seats and when the titular walk occurs, it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a gripping portrait of artistic obsession—that inability to admit defeat even in the face of impossible odds. Perhaps, sometimes,the more incensed and impatient side of this otherwise amiable guy might be exposed, but once he finally reaches the roof of the southern twin tower with mounds and mounds of imperative (daredevil) equipment, you want this for him almost as much as he does. Thus, it becomes an undeniably fun caper with a mischievous score that recalls the audacity of Ocean’s 11 crew. Subsequently, a beautiful, soaring score greets us as the vastness of the city and the romantic posture of the horizon comes into view on the roof; if Phillip falls, it would surely be a glorious death. Vague descriptions and mappings (from the documentary) could only take your imagination so far, which is why veteran director Robert Zemeckis prioritizes absolute audience involvement by implementing suspenseful excitement into sequences that see this group break in past security, maintaining feverish pacing in the process. But, of course, what we’re really here for is the sheer potential of incredible thrills from the famous wire-walking. As I’ve mentioned above, this is an absolute must-see in IMAX 3D just like Avatar and Gravity were. The beauty of Paris and New York City are greatly enhanced in all their lavish detail, and the depth in those daunting shots that look down from lofty heights makes the experience drastically more immersive. As the camera glides from the top of a tower down to the very streets of New York, you could almost feel that rush. The film finds every possible technical maneuver in amping up the audience’s anxiety during these scenes–close-ups of Phillip’s sweat or carefully- placed feet balancing on a slightly vibrating rope, followed by the camera’s panning and circling around Petit’s various tricks on the wire which only increase in difficulty.
This film starts out as a Disney fantasy, morphs into a heist film, and ends as a miracle. Essentially, this film has achieved an astonishing feat in wholly justifying a cinematic retelling of the true story. With that being said, there are details that are over-dramatized as can be expected from a Hollywood production in order to build superficial tension, or even those that are fictionally inserted to give a scene the fullest dramatic effect. Occasional moments remind us we’re only watching a movie after all, whether it’s some inspirational dialogue or the predictable action beats like someone tipping over at the worst time. Joseph Gordon-Levitt inhabits this eccentric character with the utmost dedication and methodology, livening every element of the individual with a remarkable magnitude of authenticity whether it’s the perfection of a thick French accent, or even his pronunciations when he’s actually speaking the language for extended periods of time. He’s clearly working with such a burden here, and at the same time, he’s also infusing the maximum dose of charisma into this character. Pleasantly observe the totally natural French-like mannerisms he subtly permeates into his confrontational arguments with those around him–friends who’re incessantly vexing him with their distrust in this insane stunt he’s so eager to pull! The dude is just so awesome! Thanks to the support of an exceptional cast—including the lovable James Badge Dale; the great Ben Kingsley; a refreshing actress in Charlotte Le Bon (2014’s The Hundred-Foot Journey); as well as all the other cohorts and their comic relief next to them—strengthens Levitt‘s energy on the screen that much strongly. On the whole, ‘The Walk‘ succeeds in telling a fascinating story & providing some glorious breathtaking visuals to bring Philippe Petit‘s dream to life. Director Robert Zemeckis continues to prove why he’s one of the best directors of our time! I suggest seeing it in IMAX 3D as I did last night because the film made you feel as though you were walking beside Petit‘s character the whole time!
Director – Robert Zemeckis
Rated – PG
Run Time – 123 minutes