The Walk is the incredible true story of a man who walked a tightrope 110 stories in the air, between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. That man was Philippe Petit, a French wire walker, juggler & street performer who was driven by big dreams. The film is based on Petit's own memoir as well as the 2008 documentary Man On Wire.
Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) narrates this story from high atop a perch in New York City, telling of his early days in France and what built his love of performing. We are introduced to a sage old circus performer, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), who begrudgingly imparts all he knows about wire walking to the ambitious young Petit. Papa Rudy's main goal is to keep Petit from killing himself up on the wire until he can learn enough to handle himself. But Petit has bigger goals than the traveling circus or street performing. He draws the eye of a young artist named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), who he is alternately trying to impress as well as draw inspiration from. With her help, he drew attention as he walked on his wire between the towers of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. This only served to embolden him to dream bigger. It was around this time that he saw an ad for the soon-to-be-completed World Trade Center towers in New York City.
The towers called to Philippe. He was drawn to them immediately, and knew that was where he had to hang his wire next. And this is where our story starts to pick up steam. The plan, or as he began to call it, "the coup" was rough. He and Annie flew to New York and began enlisting any fellow conspirators they could find. Philippe's passion for what he wanted to do was contagious, and soon they had a team assembled of conspirators ready to attempt what seemed to be impossible.
It's Joseph Gordon-Levitt's narration through this film that captures the unbridled passion Philippe had as he talked about his plan. As can be seen in the aforementioned documentary on the subject, Man On Wire, Philippe still now gets excited when talking about it all. Gordon-Levitt conveys that fanciful dreamer who lives to perform on the biggest stage wonderfully.
As the plan goes from mere discussion to practice and preparation, the movie takes on the feel of a heist movie. You are reminded that it was a different time back then when security wasn't on constant high alert. Each team member has a job to do in order for this to happen. From the constant surveillance Philippe does of the buildings and the goings-on within them, to the recruiting of an 'inside man' to help them get their equipment in, the tension builds as the walk date rapidly approaches. Once inside, and ready to set the rigging up, it feels like everything is conspiring against them to actually pull it off. But of course, there wouldn't be much of a story if they failed. This final act, as the wire is getting rigged in a race to beat the clock, is quite intense, and you feel the stakes if there's a mistake. As Philippe steps out onto the wire for the first time, there is a palpable sense of relief that he's finally done it, mixed with the realization of what he's actually doing.
To say that the visuals in this film are stunning is a massive understatement. Robert Zemekis' use of scale and scope to show you exactly how massive the towers were and how high Philippe was is breathtaking. The 3D used in this film, specifically in the IMAX format, was the most effective use of 3D I have ever seen in film. Zemekis and Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski pulled out all the tricks, using the 3D to offer great depth of field as well as throwing things out of frame in moments. The 3D served the story and made the audience a part of the story. When Philippe looks down, you get the real sense of what 110 stories in the air feels like. It felt like Zemekis was enjoying playing with his audience with some of the shots, testing the viewer's nerve that high up.
As the inevitable happens, and Philippe makes his historic walk, it's Gordon-Levitt's narration that takes over. It is his voice alone that describes the emotions, the thoughts, going through Philippe's head during that long lonely walk through the clouds. As in the entirety of the movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fabulous here. He perfectly captures the essence of what makes Philippe Petit so entertaining, and so engaging. You recognize how he was able to convince so many people to help him in his insane plan, and win over an entire city once he'd gone through with it.
One of the most striking things about The Walk as you watch it, is the imagery of the World Trade Center towers. They are front and center as co-stars of this story. It was refreshing, to me, to see the towers standing in all their glory, and to remember that they were more than just the symbols of a tragic day. Zemekis handles them beautifully, and there is some powerful imagery of them to close out the film.
The Walk is a film that is a must see on the big screen, the bigger the better. See it in 3D. Relax. Enjoy the story, and get pulled along out onto the wire. It's worth the walk.
Jamison Rabbitt isn't afraid of heights, he just doesn't like to look down from that high up. Instead, he sticks to the relative safety of his movie theatre. You can find Jamison discussing movies on his podcasts Movie Mojo Monthly or Real Films Podcast, as well as his weekly television show found here.