To enjoy this film you must a) get past Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s French accent and b) have no fear of heights. The Walk is a pretty straight forward telling of what was undoubtedly the most audacious aerialist crime ever. In 1974, just as the World Trade Center twin towers were nearing completion, French high wire performer Philippe Petit decided to sneak into the buildings, string a wire between them, and perform his act 1,350 feet above Lower Manhattan. He enlisted a motley crew of French and American conspirators for what he referred to as his “coup” and somehow got away with it. But sadly, as exciting as the final walk is (thank you CGI artists!), the build up to it isn’t really all that interesting, especially if you saw the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire, which told the story with real tension.
In The Walk, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit, narrating his story from a perch in the Statue of Liberty’s torch. We see that from childhood, he has had a passion for the high wire and once he sees a photo of the World Trade Center towers, he is hell bent on walking between them. He gets some practice in by walking between the towers of Notre Dame, but then kicks into gear with his WTC planning. There is a cute girlfriend, but she doesn’t really have anything to do. And there are quite a few friends and helpers, but we never find out much about them either. Most of the film is exposition, leading up to the terrifying and exhilarating moments when he steps out onto the wire. The real Petit spent 45 minutes out there, heading back and forth, enjoying every minute. The Walk gives him as much time as the film will bear (about 15 minutes), milking the fact that there are policemen at both ends of the wire waiting to arrest him as soon as he decides to come in.
The film is shot in 3D and that truly helps with the fear factor of being on top of the towers. I am not all that comfortable with heights, and the minutes up there definitely were anxiety provoking. I read that there were a lot of people at some screenings who actually got sick — maybe the IMAX version. I am a Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan, and he is good in it, but the star of the movie really is the CGI. And being at the World Trade Center makes it doubly hard to watch without the 9/11 baggage speaking from time to time. I think the documentary (see trailer below) was a much more compelling telling of this story, but if you must see this version, go now and see it in 3D. That is the draw.
And in case you missed the Oscar winning documentary Man on Wire from 2008, here’s its trailer.