Director: RobertZemeckis . Cast:Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sir Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon .Genre: Biopic. Running time: 123 minutes. Certificate: PG
On August 7 1974, Frenchman Phillipe Petit performed a ludicrously death-defying stunt which grabbed the attention of the world: he walked a tight-rope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
After the 2008 Oscar award winning documentary Man On Wire detailed the outrageous event from Phillipe’s point of view, visionary director Robert Zemeckis – who helmed the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump and Flight – puts a dramatic spin on the real life tale.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Phillipe who directly addresses the audience from the get-go and immediately encapsulates the audience into the story through his opening monologue on top of the Statue of Liberty.
In the first act, he narrates us through the key points which led to his fantastic feat. As a young boy in Paris, Phillipe dreams of astonishing audiences with daring performances. He’s taken under the wing of circus veteran Papa Rudy (played by Sir Ben Kingsley) who teaches Phillipe the ins-and-out of tight-rope walking. After soaking up valuable knowledge from Papa Rudy, he takes his skills to the streets of the French capital to entertain passing tourists with some cute tricks. These performances lead him to meet street musician Annie (played by Charlotte Le Bon) who becomes his girlfriend.
A chance trip to the dentist leads to Phillipe’s inspiration to for his stunt as it’s in a waiting room magazine where he first lays eyes on the Twin Towers. After plotting his stunt with Papa Rudy, he goes back and forth across the Atlantic and enlists a rag tag team of French and American accomplices including Annie, photographer Jean-Louis, school teacher Jeff who’s afraid of heights, salesman Jean-Pierre, officer worker Barry and a couple of stoners.
From here Phillipe and his team set about on mission to access the towers and execute the bold act. The second half of The Walk has a strong heist movie vibe, without an actual heist taking place. Instead of a theft, Phillipe sets to achieve the “artistic coup of the century” and Zemeckis marvellously builds momentum and tension in the film’s latter half.
Suspense is successfully created through the trials and tribulations that Phillipe and co face when trying to reach the top of the towers to set up the wire. Since you know what’s coming, the 90 minutes before the climax could have easily been a frustrating experience as the time before the actual walk could have been a drag.
Zemeckis, being the master director that he is, manages to keep you invested in Phillipe’s story before his grand stunt and when it arrives in the final 30 minutes you’re wholly satisfied with what’s gone on previously but anticipate the wire walk immensely.
The climactic scene is marvellous as Zemeckis and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (who also worked on The Martian) make you feel like you’re walking across the tight-rope with Phillipe which is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. It’s a jaw-dropping spectacle which is worth the price of admission alone as the nerve-wrecking anxious experience is equally thrilling and riveting.
Credit must be given to the special effects team who recreate the 1362 feet, 110 storey Twin Towers in all their magnificent glory.
As well as being powered by some awe-inspiring visuals of the 1970s New York skyline, The Walk is also fuelled by Gordon-Levitt’s brilliant leading performance. His Phillipe has arrogance in abundance but he’s played with a charm that makes him a likeable character. The eccentric Frenchman’s burning desire to perform his daredevil stunt is clearly displayed as his ambition to become an “anarchic artist” is put across well. You’ll admire his fearlessness but still think he’s an absolute madman. Plus Gordon-Levitt pulls off a convincing foreign accent which helps the film feel authentic.
While The Walk hits many highs, there’s a couple of lows which stop it reaching its full potential. You don’t really care about some of the members of Phillipe’s crew as they’re characters who are given little screen time and therefore seem to lack personality.
The only supporting characters who really strike a chord are the slick-talking Jean-Pierre and Papa Rudy, who is so expertly played by the majestic Kingsley that you wish he appeared a lot more as his mentor/student dynamic is the strongest of all Phillipe’s relationships.
Phillipe and Annie’s arc could have been developed more as their bond felt quite undercooked. There’s a brief scene where Phillipe’s mission seems to be causing trouble for their relationship but that dramatic conflict isn’t milked enough throughout the film.
On the whole, The Walk is an uplifting and inspirational film which delivers the message that dreams should be chased no matter what. It also serves as a subtle touching tribute to the Twin Towers which were of course tragically toppled on September 11. If you can, go see it in 3-D or IMAX as it is definitely a film which is deserving of those sometimes unnecessary gimmicks. The Walk scores a:
Check out the trailer here: