Film Review: The Walk

Written by Tommy Tracy

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The Walk is the real life story of French tightrope performer, Philippe Petit, who hung his wire between the Twin Towers and walked across them…for 45 MINUTES. This walk is one of the most infamous events in U.S. history, bringing much affection to the Towers, which were despised for their first couple years. If you’ve seen 2008’s documentary, Man on Wire, you may be familiar with the incredible story of how Petit traveled to New York, planned with French and American accomplices and illegally broke into the Towers to perform his stunt. And it was awesome.

Courtesy of TriStar Pictures © 2015 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of TriStar Pictures © 2015 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This film changes a small amount of the history behind the true events but for the most part, it is an amazing telling of Petit’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) journey, from street performer, to apprentice and finishing with world-renowned hero. The beginning of this film is essentially an origin story, studying closely Petit’s obsession with learning the art of rope walking and his discovery of the Towers. He begins to obsess over these towers and decides to learn from master performer, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), who teaches Petit how to tighten his rope and become one with the wire. These scenes are dynamic because Kingsley plays this role with an intensity and fierceness; he really knows what he’s doing and if Petit won’t listen, he won’t teach. Petit knows that this stunt will be impossible with just one man, so he begins to recruit what he calls “accomplices”. First comes Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who becomes his muse and biggest supporter. He also recruits photographer, Jean-Louis, who quickly becomes a best friend to Petit. The best of his accomplices, however, is Jeff, who can’t wait to help, but is also afraid of heights (go figure). These accomplices, along with a few others who are recruited in America, are exactly who Petit needs to help him complete his coup.

Once Petit gets to America, this film switches from a dramatic (and comedy) to a straight heist film, focusing on plans and recon of the World Trade Centers. Petit uses different disguises and makes his way to the top of both towers, planning…and planning…and planning. The film slows down here; it takes along time to actually get to August 6, the date they plan on “taking” the towers. These scenes also contain the recruitment of a few American accomplices but sadly, they aren’t very memorable, save for one (JP). If you’ve seen Man on Wire, you know all these accomplices made this event happen and I feel a few of these guys get shafted.

Courtesy of TriStar Pictures © 2015 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of TriStar Pictures © 2015 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Finally, they “break into” the Towers and begin their plan, making their way to the roof, dodging guards and nearly failing. This is where the film kicks into high gear and then…the actual walk begins. I’ve purposely failed to mention the films use of 3-D up until this point because this is the main focus. The 3-D looks GREAT up until this point but when Petit first steps onto the wire, it becomes INCREDIBLE. This walk is exhilarating and made me realize I may actually be afraid of heights. You feel like you are 1350 feet above the ground and every step Petit makes may be his, and your, last. This scene is breath taking and Gordon-Levitt plays it perfectly, showing no fear, as if this was just another five-foot walk between trees. As Annie, JP and the early morning New York City crowd look on, Petit salutes them, thanking them, the wire and finally, the Towers. It’s a beautiful moment and one that will never happen again.

Gordon-Levitt is a perfect Petit, nailing his carny-like French accent and the way Petit was always performing. Kingsley is also great, as usual, but sadly, not in this film enough. The rest of the cast, at least those who are screen enough, are good as well

This story is infamous and will be something we will never forget. Robert Zemeckis and company have captured exactly what worked with Man on Wire and dramatized it beautifully. I never, ever, advocate 3-D; it gives me a headache and for the most part, doesn’t work. But I implore everyone to see this in IMAX 3-D. It is not only a 3-D film, but an experience, one that makes you feel as if you’re accompanying Petit on his walk, breathing the high altitude and, yes, about to fall to your death. While I wish the ending of this would have stuck more with actual history (for instance, what happens to his accomplices), I can only nitpick so much. Petit has a great line at the end of this, stating that the two towers of the World Trade Center will live on forever. This is how I feel about my experience viewing this in IMAX 3-D. Go see it.

Final Grade: 9/10

The Wire is currently playing in theaters, click here for showtimes.

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