Ghoshen’s review: “Film of the year!”
In 1974, Frenchman Philippe Petit stunned New York and the world by secretly and illicitly stringing a wire rope between the tops of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and walking back and forth between them 400 metres above the ground. The Walk is a dramatic reconstruction of this based on Petit’s own book, To Reach the Clouds (2002), about his life and his planning and execution of this most audacious event. An award-winning documentary film, Man on Wire, released in 2008 covered much of the same material.
Although I was living in Manhattan at the time, I did not have the good fortune to witness Petit’s historic wire-walk. Except for a couple of accomplices, the only people who did see it were those who happened to be in the vicinity that early morning in August when it took place. I did however have the pleasure of seeing Petit’s street performances in various locations around Greenwich Village over several years. They included rope-walking, unicycling, juggling, mime and much humour. I am an admirer of circus arts and an amateur juggler myself so took much delight in these. He also frequently engaged audience members into his act including my girlfriend of the time. In addition, it happened that Petit and I were members of the same health club and I often saw him there. So I had a good sense of the man and this meant that seeing both Man on Wire and now this new movie were absolute musts for me.
The Walk starts with a very condensed biography up to the time when Petit came up with the idea of the Twin Towers wire-walk when he was living in Paris. It shows part of a street performance there that captures amazingly well what I remember seeing him do in New York so many years ago. Then it segues into the story of the elaborate planning involved in the Word Trade Center feat and finally takes us through the agony and ecstasy of what Petit called “le coup” which was, in reality, a brilliant success despite several mishaps, close calls and defections.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit with great panache, a decent French accent and an obvious affection for the character. Prior to filming, Gordon-Levitt spent time with Petit learning to wire-walk so I would like to think, but do not know for certain, that some of the walks shown in the movie were not faked. Charlotte Le Bon plays his girlfriend and Ben Kingsley his wire-walking mentor, Rudy Omankowsky. The director is Robert Zemeckis who is known for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and the Back To The Future trilogy. Since the Twin Towers are long gone, the film depends heavily on special effects – and probably would anyway. And those effects are amazingly good — always obviously effects but still good enough to be profoundly effective. Indeed this must be the most physically affective film I have ever seen. I mean this as a totally positive thing although a couple of scenes might be too much for some people who have a problem with heights. Hours after the viewing I was still feeling the physical upheaval it caused in me.
As I mentioned, the screenplay is based on Petit’s own book but it includes inventions for dramatic purposes. This is the one flaw in the movie and it is a big one; the original story is so dramatic by itself that up-dramatizing it seems grossly irresponsible. The most extravagant example is an arch-abomination: a police helicopter is seen circling closely above Petit for a short period while he is doing the wire walk. This did not happen in reality (although it was mooted) and, in the movie, it has the effect of slightly ruffling Petit’s hair. If I am any judge, it would almost certainly have blown him off the wire. So one of the finest movies to come out of Hollywood is tainted by typical Hollywood excess. Although this may be something to lament, do not let it stop you seeing the film.
You may have gathered by now that I chose to review The Walk because I was blown away by it. It depicts what may well be the most courageous artistic event in human history, and does so with quality, passion and an awesome, gut-wrenching immediacy. In today’s cinema it is unusual and marvelous to see special effects being used to create an illusion of hard reality instead of an illusion of superheroes, spacecraft and endless things being blown up. The acting is top-notch, especially by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley and Clément Sibony (as Petit’s primary accomplice). It all adds up to something way out of the ordinary and easily my film of the year.
One last note: I had the opportunity to view this film in Imax 3D but chose instead to see it on a conventional 2D screen. I do not like so-called 3D in movies and thought that Imax would likely be overkill for this one. And I felt justified in that it proved so physically moving as it was that I can only think that Imax might be nausea-inducing.
If you care to learn more about Philippe Petit you might start with his Wikipedia entry, then watch Man on Wire and try some of his several books.
Review by Ghoshen for Osho News