A quarter of a mile up in the air is where The Walk does its best work. The story of Philippe Petit’s death-defying walk between the Twin Towers, it’s both a love letter to those towers and a look at a man whose passion takes him to the most ludicrous of places.
Before we got to that heady height, The Walk is essentially a heist film. Petit and his group of accomplices plan out his ‘coup’ and figure out how to break in and set up a high wire between these two newly constructed building. It’s a heist that there is a lot of fun to be had with. However, if you’ve seen James Marsh’s documentary Man On Wire, it will feel very familiar. Some scenes are nearly identical and The Walk sticks pretty closely to the facts.
It’s helped to get over this by the charm of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He’s an on-screen presence that you just can’t help but like and while his French accent is often suspect, he delves into parody territory occasionally, his natural enthusiasm gets you past that. Surrounding him is an able cast, with Sir Ben Kingsley doing the wise old sage thing rather well. While Charlotte Le Bon and Clement Sibony provide the audiences route into proceedings. As Petit’s girlfriend Anne and his close accomplice Jean Louis respectively, they want to share the dream of their friend but are acutely aware of the madness that has possessed him.
So far so fun. It’s a laugh along heist movie which brings the audience along but is unlikely to shatter any brains. It’s in the last half hour that this film really finds itself. Back where we started, perched on a rope a quarter of a mile up, it comes to life and does what Man on Wire could never do. Puts us on that wire next to Petit. A truly terrifying moment. Those of you, who like me, are scared of heights will be watching through your fingers, praying he makes it down alive. Because you forget, you forget that you know how this ends and find yourself perched on the edge of your seat praying that he will just get off that rope.
What’s even more impressive is that they make this act beautiful. Going into this film I was aware of the story, but only in loose terms, and it didn’t mean anything to me. I had no real interest in high wire walking and certainly didn’t see any beauty in it. The Walk changes that and takes you into the mind of a man to whom it is everything. For a few minutes, you understand the madness of Philippe Petit and that is where Robert Zemeckis and his cinematographer Dariusz Wolski have really succeeded.
Philippe Petit is a man whose passion led him to do extraordinary things and watching The Walk you want to throw your hat in the ring and join his ‘coups’. It’s a heist film with the most stunning ending and the fact it’s all true just makes it that bit more spectacular. It’s also that rare beast of a film that makes good use of 3D, with the void below Levitt brought to life by that most gimmicky of gimmicks. The Walk made me care about something I didn’t give a damn about before and in that sense, is an undoubted triumph.