The Walk (Robert Zemeckis, 2015)
Some people are cray. Philippe Petit being one of them. In 1974 he rigged a wire between the two Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and walked across it. He then stayed on the wire for 45 minutes. With no safety harness. David Blaine eat your heart out.
Petit’s story has previously been conveyed on screen in the highly acclaimed 2008 documentary Man on Wire. The doco consisted of interviews with Petit and his accomplices, as well as images of his death-defying act, however very little video footage of the act was available. In The Walk, director Robert Zemeckis lets viewers experience the walk itself through incredible CGI and terrific use of 3D. Some viewers are reported to have vomited at screenings. Such reports seem exaggerated, but maybe those viewers were just weak.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was required to adopt a French accent to play Petit, and it feels awkward for roughly the first thirty seconds (probably because we’re not used to it). That he is entirely believable from then on is testament to his skills as an actor – he’s come a long way from 3rd Rock from the Sun! Petit isn’t the most likeable character – he’s arrogant, selfish, and arguably stupid, and we all know this is a long way from the embodiment of perfection that is Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The supporting cast aren’t particularly well-known, with the exception of the great Ben Kingsley as Petit’s mentor, Papa Rudy. There isn’t much in the way of character development for these supporting players, and some are painted quite thin (such as the stoner American who becomes an accomplice) but they often provide humour in a highly fraught situation. Especially when one of them has a fear of heights.
The Twin Towers are portrayed in all their extraordinary beauty, and there’s an underlying sense of melancholy that accompanies The Walk in a post 9/11 world. Zemeckis doesn’t lay on the sentiment too thick, but rather pays a more subtle tribute. Audiences will watch this film with 9/11 at the back of their minds, but they are also reminded of the towers’ place in more positive events.
Viewers may be torn between admiration and bewilderment at Petit’s actions. While what he did was incredible, and an inspiration for those that dare to dream, it’s difficult not to wonder what the hell the fool was playing at in risking his life like that. Even when you know he makes it, you’re still somewhat terrified to watch. I gasped quite audibly at one point, but ultimately if a film can provoke that kind of reaction, it’s certainly done its job. See it in 3D if you can handle it.