Biographically themed movie productions continue to envelop the Hollywood landscape – serving as a means to reenact and interpret a majority of history’s most memorable moments (for better or worse). In the last month alone, depictions of Bobby Fisher (Pawn Sacrifice) and Whitey Bulger (Black Mass) are just two examples of cinematic incarnations that have served to entertain and semi-education observers.
This time around, it’s world-renowned French high-wire walker Philippe Petit that becomes the subject of a film treatment – a man that cemented his legacy by performing depth-defying walks in and between some of the world’s most impressive structures, which include the Notre Dame Cathedral, New York’s Lincoln Center, and of course, the two towers of the World Trade Center. In the film, The Walk, directed by Academy Award winner Robert Zemeckis (Forest Gump), Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Philippe Petit – a high wire walker who become enthralled with such feats at a young age.
His career choice understandably alienates his parents, thrusting him into the world – at which point he meets a successful Circus leader, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), who teachers him the fine-point characteristics for success. After introducing his tightrope walking abilities on crowded city streets, where he also meets his love interest, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), Philippe eventually decides it’s time to “hang his wire” between the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The walk earns him much praise around the world, and following the successful walk – his thirst grows for a grander challenge.
Coincidentally, the twin towers are near completion in New York City – prompting Philippe, Annie, and their cohorts to fly to the Big Apple, where they plot to hang a wire between buildings. And, when the day of their “coup” arrives, they experience a slew of unexpected setbacks – but not enough to deter Philippe from making the gut-wrenching walk of a lifetime. Truthfully, it takes a while to get acquainted with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his portrayal of a Frenchman – not because he’s not capable or convincing, but simply because his accent is so impressive that it’s almost distracting.
The fact that he essentially learned to speak the language on the fly is sensational enough, but his wire walking training is visibly as notable, too (he actually trained with the real life Philippe Petit). The actions of Philippe Petit throughout this film are undeniably brash – and that’s half the fun right there. He’s either confident or insane, depending how you perceive hire wire performers. Nevertheless, Levitt, best known for his roles in The Dark Knight Rises and Looper, conveys Petit’s ambitious in a true, authentic fashion.
Levitt’s rendition is full of vigor and surreal motivations – proving once more that he’s on the cusp of becoming a fullblown Hollywood superstar. Aside from Gordon-Levitt’s majestic performance, the supporting cast is nowhere near as effective – mostly due to the fact that the star of the film (and story) rightfully dominates the attention. Still, Ben Kingsley and Charlotte Le Bon contribute sporadically, and attempt to add emotional dimensions to Petit’s character.
And, although romance, friendship, and any other bond of that sort is left on the outskirts, try to keep in mind that The Walk is a film that’s more about the visuals and viewer engagement than anything else. From the moment the first trailer dropped, you could tell The Walk was going to be a special movie viewing experience. Quick scenes from the film were enough to send chills of nervousness and unease down your spine – stemming from brief glimpses of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character attempting to walk a high wire between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Those particular instances in the trailer don’t begin to prepare you for what’s in store as this film progresses towards the momentous occasion. The tension will unquestionably consume you leading up to Philippe’s first steps above the streets of New York City, and by the time all is said and done, the odds of you clinching your arm rest at one point or another is pretty great – as is the likelihood of your walking away from this viewing experience with sweaty palms.
Early reports are even indicating that several viewers are experiencing cases of nausea – due to either motion sickness from the camera angles (keep in mind, 3D has plenty to do with it) or that empty feeling you get in your stomach, sort of comparable to how you feel when you’re riding a roller coaster. And, before you ask – yes, the IMAX 3D experience is potent and realistic enough to leave you feeling anxious and speechless.
Keep in mind that this event took place in 1974, so it’s not like director Robert Zemeckis – for as brilliant as he is – could use the current New York landscape. As a result, the shots are riddled with CGI, yet that doesn’t make the experience feel any less real when you’re starring down at the street from this digital vantage point. Your eyes will tell you the visual effects are doctored – but that won’t necessarily put your mind at ease, since the film is based on a real-life event.
Overall, The Walk is a visual and emotional thrill ride that is almost beyond words of description. The thought of a man walking on a wire 110 stories (more than 1350 feet) in the air without a safety net is mind-bending, and rightfully forces you to question such a person’s sanity. But, Philippe Petit isn’t insane – he simply had a dream, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, with the help of the masterful Robert Zemeckis, brings that dream to the big screen in a grandiose manner.
In the end, The Walk is worth every single cent of its admission cost, regardless of how you choose to view it. With that said, IMAX 3D is certainly the best option – because watching it in 2D will diminish the effects significantly. Regardless, the story stands on its own merit in terms of entertainment value – and despite a lengthy build-up, the climactic pay-off more than makes-up for the long wait. The final scene is also quite touching and emotional, too – and because it involves the gone-but-not-forgotten Twin Towers, I’m sure you can imagine its impact.