The World Trade Centre, known informally as the Twin Towers, were the tallest buildings in the world at the time of their completion in 1974. What it did not expect was for its inauguration to the world to be so death-defying and humanly insurmountable. This moment of pure awe comes in the form of Philippe Petit, a French street performer who makes it his life mission to walk a tightrope between the two buildings.
Petit’s high-wire walk is a true event, not some made-up piece of fiction that pushes the boundaries of humanity for its own entertainment. Although its authenticity does restrict Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk to a less than suspenseful outing, this takes nothing away from a spellbinding final hour. In fact, it works well enough to act as a springboard for audiences to move on to the more insightful Man on Wire, the Academy Award winning documentary of this extraordinary moment in human brilliance.
“Perhaps the most purely adrenaline-based, mesmerisingly bonkers, death defying walk ever made”
Narrated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit, The Walk focuses emphatically on its star man in an attempt to find the human in such a superhuman act. As The Walk knows to devote its second act fully to Le Coup, the first hour persists on delving extremely lightly into Petit’s life as a performer on the streets of Paris, something that leads him to his passion and his crew, yet emotionally detaches him from his family. Upon meeting new associates, Petit designates each a job to aid his walk, so no supporting character matters on their own. It’s their function to Le Coup that defines them; they are merely included to support Petit on his quest. Petit’s passion destabilises him mentally, even physically at times, making him quite an ambitiously one-minded and selfish man… but look where that has got him!
The Walk could have been shorter though, as it’s utterly bare in terms of narrative. However, The Walk knows this, and takes precautions not let us drown in the boredom of focusing on one thing. Still, there is a lack of diverse emotions prevalent within The Walk, so it’s hard to generate any emotion other than amazement.
“Climax that drives us to the edge of our seats and stimulates every emotion in our body, to the point where we are alive to this historical moment”
Which leads me perfectly onto the actual Coup, perhaps the most purely adrenaline-based, mesmerisingly bonkers, death defying walk ever made. If that wasn’t enough spectacle, the knowledge that this occasion was actually real elevates The Walk to blistering levels of appreciation and awe. Standing at 1,350 ft high, on a rigged 200 kg cable, with an 8 metre, 25 kg pole the only thing standing between balance and death, the art of high-wire walking was taken to a superior level. It took unthinkable balance, unrestrained guts, unlimited bravery, buckets of courage and an ounce of insanity to pull this off. The Walk lets us feel this palpably in a climax that drives us to the edge of our seats and stimulates every emotion in our body, to the point where we are alive to this historical moment.
This notion is made even more compelling thanks to the stunning visuals on show. We are Petit in the most vertiginous moments, some of which may force many viewers to run for the exits! But just when he steps foot on the wire for the first time, all he sees is an endless wire to infinity, resonating the importance of such an intimate moment to Petit himself during such a lavish occasion. And when we aren’t in Petit’s head, the camera looms over and swooshes from angle to angle to give The Walk a spiraling sensation, where the ‘Petite’ figure balances helplessly between the two sky-scraping monoliths of the 20th century. This force some viewers to look away!
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is commanding as Philippe Petit, enough to carry the entire film on his shoulders and keep it strutting until the very end. Gordon-Levitt seems to have one of the most malleable faces in Hollywood, and as well as putting on the fantastic French accent and learning how to high-wire properly (at the hands of Petit himself), Gordon-Levitt thrives as the lead star.
In the end, you can’t help but watch with gloom at the thought that these two iconic buildings, that harvested such a special moment in human achievement, are gone. In a way, that showed the exact opposite of this success, taking life in droves and destroying a unifying landmark in the process. Levitt narrates all along from the Statue of Liberty, allowing us to watch them in hindsight, conscious of their tragic fate.