THE WALK (USA/PG/123mins)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte LeBon, Ben Kingsley, Ben Schwartz, James Badge Dale, Steve Valentine, Benedict Samuel.
‘I find myself on an island, floating in mid air on the edge of the void’… On August 6th 1974, French high wire performer Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) crossed a wire strung between the towers of New York’s World Trade Centre… 110 storeys up. Robert Zemeckis’ film takes us behind the scenes of this incredible feat, and into the mind of the man who seemed that the towers were built for him to dance on a wire between them.
THE VERDICT: The incredible true story of Philippe Petit’s crossing between the Twin Towers has already been told on the big screen, in James Marsh’s Oscar winning documentary ‘Man on Wire’, but Robert Zemeckis not only gives a strong insight into Petit, but also takes the audience right onto the wire with him in some truly tense and hair raising scenes.
It would seem to make sense that the character of Philippe Petit would be played by a French actor, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt has the charm, charisma and borderline arrogance to carry off such a character. The French accent used by Gordon-Levitt does jar for the first few seconds of the film, but the actor has the courage of his convictions, and makes it work. Gordon-Levitt makes the audience truly root for this charming, arrogant daredevil, and it is this audience sympathy that makes the film work, particularly in the terrifying high wire scenes. The rest of the cast support Gordon-Levitt well; Ben Kingsley stands out as Petit’s mentor and supporter and Charlotte LeBon is endearing as Annie. The rest of the cast includes Parks and Recreation’s Ben Schwartz, James Badge Dale, Steve Valentine and Benedict Samuel.
Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Browne’s screenplay – based on Petit’s novel ‘To Reach the Clouds’ – delves into the history of the walk, and where the inspiration to push himself while paying tribute to New York City comes from. The audience is taken through the life of Petit, the struggles he went through in order to become a performer, and the successes he had along the way, such as walking a wire between the towers of Notre Dame in Paris. The film is zippy and fun, flirting with danger and allowing the audience to fall a little in love with Gordon-Levitt’s character. As well as this, the film shows the planning and care that went into planning the walk, and what happened when things began to go wrong.
As director, Robert Zemeckis almost makes THE WALK feel like a circus; colours and music abound in the first half of the film, making it feel bright and cheerful by carefully blending black and white images with full, vibrant colour. The pacing the of the film struggles a little as it moves from the past into the present day of the film, and Philippe and his accomplices get into planning the actual walk from New York City. This all changes, however, when Petit steps onto the wire, and takes his first steps over ‘the void’ between them. What follows is a master class in tension, as Zemeckis ramps up the fear and apprehension as Petit becomes increasingly more confident on the high wire. Bringing the audience onto the sire not only adds to the tense feeling of the end of the film and shows off the film’s beautiful and loving cinematography, but proves the strength of the first half of the film, as it is nearly impossible not to root for Petit as he takes his time on the wire.
In all, THE WALK is a master class in tension; the audience is brought right onto the wire with Petit, which truly hammers home the foolhardy bravery it took to complete this performance. Gordon-Levitt is both charming and arrogant as Petit, the cast back him up well and the cinematography is simply beautiful. One stumble in pacing aside, this exhilarating and terrifying movie is quite simply the best we have seen from Robert Zemeckis since ‘Cast Away’ 15 years ago.
Review by Brogen Hayes

The Walk
Review by Brogen Hayes
4.0Exhilarating & terrifying
  • filmbuff2011

    James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary Man On Wire introduced us to the extraordinary Frenchman Philippe Petit. An impish, playful and innocent soul who likes to create art through wire-walking, the film was a joyful celebration of a true one-off: a wire-walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre on 6th August 1974. But it lacked something: the ‘coup’ or walk itself. Instead, Marsh had to rely on testimony and photos. Enter Robert Zemeckis, a fellow director who knows how to create his own kind of magic and has done so with The Walk, a dramatization of the events with the ‘coup’ intact. When we first meet Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), he’s hanging out on the Statue Of Liberty, narrating his story. Then we move to Paris in 1973, where Petit is trying to make a living as a wire-walker and performance artist. This is where he meets singer Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) whom he pursues. He’s always looking for a place to hang his wire and has a eureka moment when he sees the perfect place in a magazine: the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, which is nearing completion in New York. In order to learn all the skills he needs and survive at such a great height, he consults circus owner Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley). In order to pull off the coup though, he has to organise it in secret and with a crew that he can trust. When Petit arrives in New York, the countdown begins to hanging the wire over the 200 foot gap between the towers. But walking on it will prove to be something else… Based on Petit’s book To Reach The Clouds, The Walk should correctly be regarded as a companion piece that complements Man On Wire, rather than act as a competing film. Like say, One Day In September and Munich. It’s a thrilling film, that works equally as a heist thriller and a portrait of towering ambition. Zemeckis cranks up the tension for the first two acts, portraying Petit not as a mad genius but as a peaceful soul looking for a moment of clarity. Then comes the pay-off: the walk itself – and it’s a jaw-dropping experience, particularly in IMAX 3D. Not recommended for those with vertigo, Zemeckis puts you out there on the wire as Petit walks back and forth, kneels and even lies down. Hold onto your seats and put down your popcorn. This is the film’s signature moment. But what comes across the most is not that death is waiting to grab Petit at any moment, but the fact that Petit is so serenely peaceful there. Just him, the wire and the Twin Towers. This is not about death to Petit, this is about life. Zemeckis has often been a director at the forefront of visual effects and they’re perfectly seamless here. You really do feel like you’re out there, staring down into a chasm of 1,362 feet. The attempt to elicit feelings of vertigo was deliberate. Gordon-Levitt, with a decent French accent, does a great job at selling Petit’s enthusiasm for his seemingly impossible dream. Truth is certainly stranger than fiction, but there’s nothing wrong with Petit. He sees the world differently and he gave New Yorkers and the world something to remember. Of course, the events of September 11th 2011 have cast a shadow on his story. Zemeckis rightly recalibrates the story to that of 1974, but at the end he makes a subtle and quietly moving acknowledgement and tribute to the buildings and the lives that were lost. The Walk is a celebration of life, a stunning cinematic achievement, a technical marvel and a reminder that dreams don’t have to be impossible. ****

  • Randy

    The Walk is a fitting companion piece to the lauded documentary “Man on Wire” as it gets to the heart of the experience of the an amazing ‘coup’.and the ingenious planning involved in making that happen, and this is where the movie excels. However, it does fall somewhat flat when it comes to the cartoonish French accents (not too much of that used, thankfully) and some textbook scenes and underdeveloped characters.A lot of the times, great sequences are interrupted by Petit narrating those moments while standing on the Statue of Liberty, with the two towers in the background, which takes away from the immersive experience. The film doesn’t quite get to the heart of the man’s ambition apart from selling it as an American Dream. That notwithstanding, the CGI is really impressive, especially in IMAX 3D – a spectacle that one can only really appreciate on the big screen. There’s plenty of comedy to boot as well. Overall, I’d recommend it as a great night at the movies, just as it should be. 3/5

  • Martin

    Didn’t need to be made cause we already have man on wire but it’s still worth a look. Seeing this in imax 3D my hands were clammy from the scenes. It was like you were on that rope with him. I thought that was done very well. The story on the other hand gets overly sentimental and there was no need for that