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In 2008, the documentary entitled “Man on Wire” detailed the life of frenchman Philippe Petit and showed his passion for walking high-wires across the world. The movie culminated in the heist to break into the World Trade Center buildings in 1974 and Petit’s attempt to cross the gap between the twin towers. This documentary/dramatization took everyone by surprise and even took home the Best Documentary Academy Award.
I was worried that a feature film based on this same story wouldn’t be able to do the tightly-paced documentary justice.
Enter The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump), which stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as the off-kilter Philippe. This movie takes a different approach to the story than the documentary, which keeps it from feeling like a lazy retread.
From seeing tightrope walkers at the circus, at a young age, Philippe Petit felt drawn to this death-defying hobby and made it his goal to master the art. Essentially being homeless, Petit becomes a street performer in the streets of Paris to makes ends meet. There he meets Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) a fellow busker, who eventually helps Petit in his quest to cross impossible ravines.
As their relationship grows, they recruit others in his pursuit to come to America and cross the divide of the newly-built World Trade Center buildings.
The Walk is almost a spoiler-proof movie. Whether you know Petit’s story or not, the impact will be the same. I have to give this a full IMAX recommendation for the final half hour alone. The 90 minutes leading up to the climax tell a quirky story of friendship and ambition. Yet, when you see Petit stand atop the building with 110 stories of height below, your sense of balance will start to give way.
Zemekis and cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski, have done an amazing job at capturing the very feeling of acrophobia. You will see Petit making this deadly journey across a single cable from every angle, and just like his character, you never want to look down. I freely admit that my palms were profusely sweating. Not a pretty sight.
It’s a bit strange to see Levitt voicing the quirky Petit. He speaks French and most often uses a convincing French accent when speaking English. I feel that the odd, larger-than-life character that Petit actually is, helped Levitt’s performance in the end. He fits well into the character, whereas he may not fare as well playing a more subtle French citizen.
In the end, it’s a great thing to see that the goals and dreams of one man, as ridiculous as they might seem, can be accomplished, and even then not without obstacles. The majority of this movie is okay, but not something I’d tell anyone to rush out and see. BUT…See this for the final 30 minutes alone, but I warn you, you may suffer from vertigo afterwards. This is the kind of tension I wanted to see from the movie, Everest, but didn’t. B+