Spanning the gap between each tower,
Not a trap, but source of power,
Hangs a cord you pray is taut,
In which is stored your only shot.
Your heart is racing, mind is bracing for the danger you’re embracing,
It’s, you know, a dream worth chasing.
You stand so high upon the brink,
The edge of sky, the towers’ link.
The world must fade, the thought of loss
Or accolade, to walk across
The peril you yourself have set
For public view and public fret.
You must not fear; you must not stumble.
Wisdom here will keep you humble.
Take a breath and tread with care;
Think not of death when in the air.
Dreams unskilled can get you killed,
Yet all are thrilled when they’re fulfilled.
MPAA rating: PG
Except for those who remember the headlines back in 1974, most were probably first introduced to Philippe Petit’s daring tightrope walk between the Twin Towers by 2008’s Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. I, however, did what anyone would do who isn’t well-versed in documentaries; I waited until Hollywood made a “real” movie about it. Luckily, Robert Zemeckis took up the project and created a film that is not only entertaining as a fact-based drama but actually makes me curious to see the “real real” story in Man on Wire.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt effortlessly adopts a French accent to play Petit from the beginning of his tightrope career to his greatest achievement. In many ways, he’s the definition of a misunderstood artist, bearing the weight of a dream that most people consider foolhardy, even his own father. We watch as he “learns the ropes” from high wire master Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), gains a few supporters like the lovely Annie (Charlotte Le Bon from The Hundred-Foot Journey), and draws ever closer to his ultimate dream of traversing the space between the towers of the World Trade Center, which was still under construction at the time.
Since his exploit is clearly illegal, involving much trespassing and personal risk, the lighthearted dream morphs into something of a heist, as Petit scopes out his target, meets accomplices, and memorizes careful plans that could easily go wrong. The climactic walk itself is a marvel of invisible effects work (alas, no Oscar nomination), placing Gordon-Levitt in what appears to be the most dangerous place imaginable. I happened to watch The Walk with my mom and dad on either side of me, neither of whom knew how Petit’s dream would end, and I got a huge kick out of watching their reactions. I, of course, did know and was able to watch much more calmly and chuckle as they practically went into anxious convulsions with more unrelieved tension than Petit’s tightrope. Suffice to say, the protracted finale is not for anyone even mildly afraid of heights.
The Walk is a highly enjoyable biopic that lets Petit’s dream come to fruition with pleasant fluidity, making him someone worth celebrating while acknowledging his mysterious obsession with his goal. Why does he want to walk between the towers when it’s so dangerous? To prove he can? To be the first to try? Because they can’t resist? Even though this question is asked right from the start, it’s never fully explained, but I suppose the answer isn’t far from why mountaineers climb Everest. It doesn’t make sense to us mundane folk, but the thrill and the satisfaction of accomplishment are everything to them. In recreating the Twin Towers and one man’s fascination with them, The Walk also takes on a bittersweet note in the final scene. The World Trade Center towers may no longer stand, but Petit’s dream at least lets them live on in our memory as more than just the site of tragedy.
Best line: (Barry, who works in the WTC after being told of Petit’s plans) “It’s something only a twisted, antisocial, anarchistic, pissed-off malcontent would have anything to do with…. You have your inside man!”
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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