The Walk is an impressive account of a man obsessed with an idea and persistent to a fault. Phillippe Petit is the man who walked a tight rope between the Twin Towers in New York City in 1974, became the subject of James Marsh’s Oscar-winning documentary about that experience (Man on Wire, 2008), and author of a book about it (To Reach the Clouds, 2008). Just as impressive are the special effects rendered by Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Cast Away, Polar Express, Flight) and his team and the photography of Dariusz Wolski. Numerous heart-stopping shots and gasps in the audience attest to the filmmakers’ ability to give viewers an “I was there” experience in 3D.
Petit (played by Gordon-Levitt) grew up in a military family and disappointed his father with his preoccupation at an early age with circus tricks. When he saw a man on a high wire for the first time, he was smitten with the feat. He managed to talk his way into being coached and mentored by an expert performer, Papa Rudy (Kingsley), which sent him on his way toward the goal of impressing the world with his feats. His father’s booting him from the household and sending him out on his own was of little consequence to him.
He meets another street performer in Paris, Annie (Le Bon) by first competing with her then wheedling her into a romantic relationship. She will play a key role in supporting him throughout his initial dream and plan to walk a tight rope between the twin towers, even moving to New York with him and encouraging him through bleak times when everything seemed hopeless. The night before the walk, she keeps vigil on the street with binoculars in hand, waiting for the moment.
There is much more to the planning of the walk than the naïve viewer would imagine, and furthermore, at least a half-dozen additional people are needed to gain access to the buildings, help with cables, and perform other tasks before the walk can take place. Assistants for Petit comprise a motley crew of helpers, one of which is afraid of heights (although he is not the one who abandons the project at the last minute). The film does a good job in demonstrating what is needed, the setbacks and frustrations that ensue, and the psychological demands on everyone in working through conflicts and sustaining motivation throughout. Dreams can be infectious, and Petit has a gift for keeping everyone around inspired.
Gordon-Levitt fits the role hand-in-glove, even adopting a convincing French accent and mastering the tight rope for many scenes, although he did use a double (Jade Kindar-Martin) for more difficult walks. In an interview with Ryan Gilbey of The Guardian, Kindar-Martin points out that psychological preparation is just as important as the physical. “I told him [Gordon-Levitt] to believe he is the master of the world” (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/24/the-walk-movie-world-trade-centre-robert-zemeckis-joseph-gordon-levitt).
I was less taken by Kingsley’s performance—and surprised because he’s usually outstanding. But his accent was a mixture of several, and a deep connection with Gordon-Levitt’s character just didn’t come through. On the other hand, the chemistry between Le Bon and Gordon-Levitt is dynamic.
Bottom line: A gripping tale that takes you on a tight-rope high above the streets of New York.