Two towers. One man. One wire.
On August 7th, 1974, a charismatic Frenchman named Philippe Petit saw his imagination and ambition collide with reality when he laid a wire between New York City’s World Trade Center Twin Towers and walked across it. He did it a few times. The crowd 110 stories below gathered by the thousands. The police who ran to the rough to arrest him stood in awe as he walked back and forth, bounced, laid down on the wire and spent more time defying the laws of gravity than millions of civilians would dare to do in their lifetimes. It was a spectacle and Director Robert Zemeckis and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt bring it to vivid life onscreen.
In the beginning of the film, Levitt is standing on top of the Statue of Liberty with the beaming Towers behind him as he tells the audience his amazing tale. The storytelling tool here is simple. Picture a circus performer or magician explaining to the audience his greatest trick in grand detail and you have this film. The movie treats the audience like a spectator passing through a museum and stopping to stare in awe at one of history’s greatest hits. A shy if curious viewer, you fall prey to this spectacle because it is unlike anything you’ve seen before.
JGL is fantastic here as the wild thrill seeking yet diligent “walker”. He’s come a long way from Third Rock from the Sun and the innocent loverboy in 10 Things I Hate About You. He is a kinetic force as Petit, transforming body, voice and soul to pay the right amount of tribute to the real fella. What many of us would think of as sure death, Petit merely called “the void”.
When Gordon-Levitt first wields his French accent on you, it may hint at first as too much or over the top but it grows on you on the film stretches from France to America with Petit and his friends planning “the coup”. Yeah, it wasn’t legal to walk between the towers, which weren’t even opened yet and nearing the end of construction as well as being stuck in controversy with the locals. After Petit’s stunt, the towers were beloved and looked upon as mythical statues in the city’s skyline.
It’s impossible to not think about 9/11 while you watch this film. Any time the Towers come on screen, a feeling of sadness and nostalgia will strike you but Zemeckis had this in mind. He wants you to yearn for the day when these Towers dominated the skyline and inspired people like Petit to dream big.
The visual effects are outstanding and sure to command awards attention. The moment Gordon-Levitt steps out onto the wire with both feet, the uneasiness in your stomach will creep up and grab your throat. The filmmakers complete the trick of making you think that you are right there with Petit as he is achieving his goal. It’s a front seat to the greatest daredevil act of all time.
The end of the movie involves a subtle touch to the demise of the Towers without blowing away the good feeling the film provides. Petit(who trained Gordon-Levitt for the film) commented on Twitter that it was a great sensitive ending and you have to see it to understand the effect. Without being overly dramatic, Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Browne tip the hat to the memory of the majestic buildings and the role they played in this man’s life.
The Walk is a bittersweet yet breathtaking ride that feels just right as the winter season of Oscar heavyweights commences before moviegoers eyes. The jazzy score, underlying humor and child like gaze of the camera allows the film to sweep over the viewer and guides you through a moment in history that seems too good to be true. With a strong performance from his renegade leading man, Robert Zemeckis has created some special for audiences to partake in. A serious adventure film with a cool sprinkle of history.