Released 2015. Director: Robert Zemeckis
IF YOU"RE AFRAID OF HEIGHTS, don’t see The Walk. Renowned high-wire artiste Philippe Petit takes cinema audiences to the clouds when he walks across the roof of the two towers of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan, a feat so breathtaking you’d think it’s fake, except it actually happened in 1974, as you’ll see re-enacted in stunning vertiginous glory.
Petit, as played by Jospeh Gordon-Leavitt, narrates his own story from the torch on the Statue of Liberty, overlooking the Manhattan skyline with the twin towers dominating the landscape. As a child, Petit learns the thrill of tight-rope walking in his backyard. As a young man, he leaves home to pursue his dreams even as his father yells at him about starving for his craft. In Paris, he meets a girl with a guitar busking and sparks fly even as it’s raining.
The Walk is a shape-shifter of a movie. The early scenes have a light comedic tone, followed by romance, which doesn’t last long when it morphs into a caper as Petit’s group plans their dare-devil plan to sneak into the WTC, which then turns into a thriller of sorts when Petit finally executes his heart-stopping stunt.
To describe The Walk as a visual-driven movie is an understatement. The scenes in Paris have a hyper-reality feel, as if you’re watching a 4K display TV at an electrical shop. The crowning glory is without doubt the recreation of the WTC, in particular the view from 110 storeys, looking straight down. Dariusz Wolski’s camera-work loves to look up from the ground at the top of the towers disappearing into the heights. But it’s the view looking down as Petit balances himself on the rope pulled tight between the buildings that sells tickets.
Joseph Gordon-Leavitt himself has also become a shape-shifter of sorts as an actor. From his days as a child actor on TV’s sitcom Third Rock from the Sun, he has graduated to romances (500 Days of Summeer), indies (Mysterious Skin), blockbusters (Inception), sci-fi (Looper) and prestige historical Oscar contender (Lincoln). In The Walk, he plays the daredevil Frenchman with an abundance of energy, walking a fine line, as it were, between manic and passionate.
Although Petit’s quest is the focus of the story, the movie is ultimately not about the man or the verticality of his aspirations. In the end, it’s a love letter to the WTC and I think Robert Zemeckis is trying to say to us it’s alright to revisit the towers in our mind, it’s alright to see WTC again and not imagine a plane flying into it. Instead, behold the majesty and the splendour of this incredible skyscraper and see a man risking it all in stark madness and grandeur.