It’s a circus trick. Tight-rope walking (or as Petit would say in a thick French accent, “wire-walking”), like all circus tricks, is a perfectly practiced skill that still causes jaws to drop.Rightly so, as palms are sweaty and chins are firmly planted on the ground when watching Robert Zemeckis’ latest, The Walk. As a 3D, IMAX presentation, it’s a huge loss to imagine viewers watching it on a big TV at home and dismissing it. The Walk is an event movie, made for the gargantuan screen, by an expert in the 3D feature-filmmaking field.
Effectively a cinematic adaptation of the Oscar-winning James Marsh documentary Man on Wire, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Philippe Petit. A quirky, eccentric individual who believes wire-walking is on a par with art and music. Philippe has taken it upon himself to balance on the slim line in unbelievable locations, such as the two towers on the Notre Dame Cathedral. The twin-towers, on the other hand, are more than a witty trick. Since seeing an article showing the scale of the iconic New York skyscrapers, Philippe becomes obsessed. Drawing lines on pictures, building maquettes and models out of chopsticks, Philippe will stop at nothing to remind us (and others) that yes, he is planning to walk between them. After his Notre Dame stunt, he realises that the towers are complete and immediately travels to New York to organise the coup. Heist-like, he scopes the place out using disguises, measuring every detail and using his charm to sneak past the many construction workers and office employees that may expose his plan. When they reach the top, on the evening of August 6th 1974, we join them to experience the adrenaline and beauty of Petit’s dream.
Entering The Walk, the story is clear and the outcome well known. Philippe survives and manages to walk the distance between the two towers. How he does it and the grand scale of the accomplishment is what we are here to witness. Like P.T. Barnum, Philippe directly tells us the story, with the World Trade Centre standing tall behind him. Atop the Statue of Liberty, the beautiful skyline of New York frames his tale. There is nevertheless a conflict. Philippe’s demeanour is arrogant and cock-sure. When called on this, he explains that he has to be. His silliness is playful and child-like, entranced and emboldened by the oddness of life. He doesn’t say death and instead says life, for example. But this unfortunately takes away from the inspirational overtones of the movie.
Everyone has to take the first step. Don’t say it’s a dream, say it’s a plan. These sentiments, central to the heart of the film, are about one man: Philippe Petit. His desire to walk between the twin towers is, indeed, out of this world. His slightly unhinged approach to these magnificent feats are set in a different time, and it’s difficult to relate to his outlook. Rather than a film to realign your senses, and focus your attention on your own personal goals, The Walk is merely a theme park ride. The visual scale is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The tiny man with the whole of New York in his view, unsettles and grips you entirely. Whether the film holds any longevity though, is a different question entirely as it never truly reaches its lofty ambitions. It only teeters on the edge of excellence, but sadly The Walk’s thematic core is far away, distantly out of view.
This post was originally written for Culturefly in October 2015