In 1974, daredevil tightrope walker and magician Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hatches the audacious plan to walk the wire in the clouds between the World Trade Centre Towers, aided by his mentor Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) and a small band of international recruits. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller:
Audacious, funny and thrilling, Robert Zemekis' film about French tightrope walker Philippe Petit is a story with everything and effectively uses the 3D and visual effects to elevate it into a glorious edge-of-seat affair. The fact that it is a true story gives the film grit and Zemekis' has skilfully delivered a heart-stopping thriller coated with an unexpected emotional layer. Spectacular filmmaking meshes the unlikely elements of 'the artistic coup of the century' and weaves them into a rich tapestry in which dreams, romance, daring and madness all play a part.
Adapted from Petit's memoir 'To Reach the Clouds', Zemekis and Christopher Browne have written a screenplay that captures the essence of the man: talented, arrogant, determined ... and mad, as the man admits himself. Cleverly structured, the events are presented with commentary by Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), quirkily perched on the Statue of Liberty. This surreal approach gives the film attitude, allowing the all-important establishment of Petit's character (beginning in 1973 Paris) to seem almost fable-like as we watch his development from street performer to notorious world-renowned tightrope walker.
Sporting a heavy French accent, Gordon-Levitt is surprisingly effective as Petit;
Zemekis's decision to use a mix of French and English works beautifully, allowing both the credibility of Petit's origins and the natural progression into English as he chases his dream. His dream is to 'confront the void' and perform his impossible but beautiful challenge in New York.
Highlight is the final reel, when Petit's dream to gracefully walk on a steel cable between the newly built Twin Towers is realised. Using wonderful camera angles that maximise the impact of the daring endeavour, the walk itself - a graceful ballet on a tightrope - is a dizzying and memorable piece of cinema. We feel as though we are there, accomplices to Petit's own 'accomplices', whose individual stories are also highly entertaining. I grimaced, held my breath and gasped during this unforgettable sequence as the word 'daring' assumes new meaning. The anticipation, the tension and sheer thrill is palpable; humour offering welcome relief.
Alan Silvestri's nimble music score is always present, offering its cat and mouse caper feel, while the depiction and casting of Petit's 'accomplices' is excellent. Ben Kingsley is surprisingly effective as Petit's mentor Papa Rudy, who instills the importance of always checking the rigging himself; there are laughs involving Jean-Francois (Cesar Domboy), the maths whizz-kid who is terrified of heights; and Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) is lovely as Petit's supportive Parisian girlfriend.
The essence of our emotional journey is similar to that of James Marsh's excellent 2008 documentary on the subject. Zemekis' dramatization may leave out some of the facts but it covers enough - and leaves us with indelible memories of an extraordinary feat, while shining the spotlight on the Twin Towers, a beautiful and tumultuous reminder of unforgettable events.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Australians - Sydneysiders in particular - will be outraged that this film makes no mention of Philippe Petit's amazing high wire walk of between the northern pylons of the Sydney Harbour bridge in 1973 (look it up on YouTube) a year prior to his amazing feat that is the subject of this film. His 1971 wire walk between the towers of the Notre Dame is there, but oddly enough, that is presented as his only debut, despite his disgust at the French media for taking a dim view while papers in Spain and Russia marvelled at his earlier exploits. But enough of my carping, propelled in part by the wonderful memories of the terrific James Marsh documentary Man On Wire that was released in Australia exactly seven years ago this month (October, 2008), when Petit came and helped promote the film ... including a Q&A with your critic, followed by dinner, where he continued to thrill us with anecdotes and table magic.
So as a Petit fan and a Walk On Wire fan, I come to this Robert Zemeckis film with misgivings: hence my grumblings above. Indeed, the first half the film also had me grumbling in my seat, uncomfortable with the story elements chosen. I had to be sold on the focus on Ben Kingsley's Papa Rudi, for a start. And on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and on him narrating his story to camera, standing at the very top of the Statute of Liberty, with the World Trade Centre towers as the backdrop. And I was. Sold, that is.
By the end of the film I had a lump in my throat and a genuine affection as well as respect for the film. This is no mean feat, given that Gordon-Levitt had to conquer a French accent (with which I am very familiar) and overcome my mental picture of the real Petit. Zemeckis also had to match the sensations delivered by Man On Wire, and the story telling power of a documentary filmed at the time.
The film is in 3D for good reason: it makes the thrills of looking down into the void between the towers a truly visceral experience - and it is delivered several times. But there is humour, too, and a genuine warmth in the characters, a clear understanding of the enormity of the artistic/acrobatic achievement and a deft use of the cinematic possibilities to deliver a great experience - without a loss of authentic emotions.
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WALK, THE (PG)
CAST: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine, Sergio Di Zio, Benedict Samuel
PRODUCER: Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke, Tom Rothman, Steve Starkey
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
SCRIPT: Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Browne (book by Philippe Petit)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Darius Wolski
EDITOR: Jeremiah O'Driscoll
MUSIC: Alan Silvestri
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Naomi Shohan
RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 15, 2015 (sneaks October 9 - 11)