On the morning of August 7, 1974, a Frenchman named Philippe Petite did the impossible, the unimaginable, the insane and, most certainly, illegal thing you could think of. He walked across the, as yet, unfinished twin towers of the World Trade Center on a cable no wider than your foot.
The Walk directed by Robert Zemeckis is an exhilarating account of this magnificent event. It plays out like a light-hearted caper film with Petite, played with high energy and joy by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, narrating from atop the Statue of Liberty. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this film. I expected half the film to be exposition into the life of Petite but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie is solely dedicated to Petite’s obsession to walk the wire between the twin towers. It’s a smart move. It makes the audience one of Petite’s accomplices.
Petite reads an article about the construction of the Twin Towers in a magazine while at a dentist’s office and gets the idea that he should walk between the towers on a wire. He spends the next 6 years learning to wire walk and planning his ‘coup’. He acquires a crew of ‘accomplices’ that will help him with his ‘coup’ much like you would see in a heist movie. He heads to New York with his girlfriend, Annie, his official photographer, Jean-Louis, his friend Jeff, who is deathly scared of heights. Once in New York, he enlists Jean-Pierre, JP (wonderfully played by James Badge Dale) who brings in stoner David and skeptical Albert to assist with helping set up the rigging and an inside man, Barry, who works on the 82nd floor and had seen Petite walk between the towers of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris a few years earlier.
The last third of the film is the incredible execution of their plan to sneak into the towers, get the heavy equipment to the top of the buildings, set up the cable and the stabilizing lines (‘cavalettis’) and have it ready for the walk to begin at sunrise.
They would have to do this while avoiding detection by security. Of course, not everything goes as planned and they fall behind schedule. If you didn’t know all this actually happened you would think ‘this is absurd! This is ridiculous!”. But it did happen and it’s still hard to believe.
Once Petite gets out on that wire it is spellbinding. Beyond scary. Unreal. I’m afraid of heights and I was squirming in my seat like I was covered with red ants. Did I mention I saw this in 3D? I kept thinking “he’s going to fall!”. I know I would have. I know I would have never even thought to attempt such a crazy thing! But Petite seems to be oblivious to the danger. In fact, in his mind, there could be no danger. He was safe on ‘his wire’. As the crowds gathered 120 floors beneath him and the cops start showing up on the roofs of both buildings trying hopelessly to get him off that wire the film becomes a dark comedy. You’re laughing, you’re scared, you’re amazed!
Gordon Levitt is his effervescent self as Petite, graceful, passionate and likeable.
Ben Kingsley is excellent as his mentor and teacher Papa Rudy. The rest of the supporting cast are fine as they follow this crazy man and help him pull off his ‘coup’ all the while worried that they’re actions will lead to his death. The 3D effects are amazing. It definitely adds to the wonder of what Petite pulled off.
In the back of my mind, watching this film, I was thinking about 9/11. But, as often happens in good films, at some point, you stop thinking about anything else except what you’re watching. You get caught up in the story. You get involved with the characters and their struggles. The Twin Towers is a major character in the film. By the end, you are only thinking about this amazing act of daring. And you’re smiling. I’m glad there is no mention of 9/11, not even at the end. This is a film about an artistic triumph. It’s a film that honors Petite’s accomplishment and reveres the Twin Towers as one would Mount Everest. It’s a shining moment in history, one that gets overshadowed by later historical events but one that, also, should not be forgotten.