The Walk sees Robert Zemeckis’ capturing of the iconic high wire antics of Philippe Petit on the morning of August 7, 1974 as he walked across the twin towers of the World Trade Center. It should be seen on the biggest and most dynamic screen possible. Indeed I fear the regular screening I sat in may not have done justice to this film. Any other day Silverbird cinema (my local cine house) rams 3-D down the throat of audiences for titles like Insurgent, Big Hero Six and Hercules but God forbid we get the 3-D treatment when we need it.
There was an unease on my part going in to The Walk given the prominence of the Twin Towers and what they represent now but we have here is period in time where the Twin Towers were a coy mistress to be wooed, something with a soul to pander to and Zemeckis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit do just that here. The core narrative has already been tackled in the 2008 documentary Man on Wire but we are given some joy to behold in the process. The script is laden with Petit’s (Gordon-Levitt) voice in this very charming and buoyant performance. I was expecting a quite dubious French accent on his part but his accent is quite good as he projects the intensity and enthusiasm of Philippe Petit the showman. A great deal of the film is in French too with even James Badge Dale engaging in solid French conversations. Of course this shouldn’t be a big deal seeing as this film is mostly based in France and is about a French man but we do live in world with accented English taking the place of indigenous speak so I will revel in this.
The story begins in Paris 1973 where Petit begins to plan his “artistic coup”. His “road to Damascus moment” happens when he sees an illustration of the nearly completed towers in a magazine whilst sitting in a dentist office. He catches feelings on the spot. He also catches feelings for the young pretty art student, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) around this period and she has his back on this coup. He picks up some tricks of the trade from the veteran wire-walker Rudy Omankowsky (Ben Kingsley) – pointers on the guy lines, wooden bulwarks etc. If you were like me you can be forgiven for thinking the only thing needed for a wire walk is a wire. This relationship between Papa Rudy and Petit actually goes on to provide a subtle emotional core to the film. Petit then goes on to recruit a troupe of individuals he terms co-conspirators. There is some interesting wording in play here (“coup,co-conspirators). These touches are key to elevating Petit’s wire walking exploits above mere a stunt and showmanship. We get the sense there is more at stake here, a prize to be had, a certain nirvana or utopia to aspire to.
The film actually begins to feel less like a coup plot and more like a heist movie as the August 7 beckons. Bear in mind Petit’s stunt was completely illegal. It required tremendous planning and attention to detail to execute and they might as well have focused their efforts of stealing a prized diamond. There is the surveillance of the towers, recruiting of and inside man and the covert sneaking around. The technical moments of preparation preceding the walk are the most tense and exhilarating in this film had to offer with the fear of heights and vertigo featuring more prominently here. The walk itself, when it comes, is almost a reward for the hard work and dedication for all involved. The world around and below Petit soothingly fades away and it’s just him and the wire. He has found his nirvana. Some sections of the audience will to. I suspect my full appreciation of the craft in these sequences will be limited but I still felt like I was on the wire with Petit thanks to Zemeckis’ meticulous handling of this sequence.
It is to the films credit (and maybe the awareness of the outcome) that we never question Petit’s mental state. We never call him suicidal. We never ask why a man would want to tempt fate in such a manner. We understand why this stunt, this artistic coup is important. Zemeckis gives us an amazing fun ride on the back of a strong cast and I advise you see it on the biggest screen possible to really grasp the entirety of this production.