When Philippe Petit is up there on his wire, I couldn’t help but love The Walk
cowriter and director Robert Zemeckis made sure of that. The master of cool special effects made the most of the true tale of the French tightrope-walker, who had the audacity and nerve to pull what he calls The Coup. Yes, in 1974, this man orchestrated a trip from France to covertly set up and walk the 140 feet between the World Trade Center towers.
Zemeckis and co-writer Christopher Brown decided to go at Petit’s story chronologically, sort of. The movie starts with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the daredevil, perched upon a Paris tower as the narrator. Corny, I thought, as he looked out from the screen and set out the basics for his story, after-the-fact.
Then we’re shown the why’s and how’s of his love for walking the wire, from his youth up to The Coup. Which I began thinking of as The Caper, by the way. But, not my story. Along the way, Petit meets The Girl, Annie, a street singer in a Paris square. She’s played quite well by Charlotte LeBon, supportive but plucky. And he turns to The Mentor, Papa Rudy, the patriarch of an aerial family at the Cirque. He’s played crusty but supportive, by a master, Ben Kingsley.
We see Petit gain skills and confidence and more and more outlandish ideas. Which he accomplishes, not without failure and mishaps, but one-by-one, been there and done that.
Zemeckis, who gave the world big and forever memories at the helm of the Back to the Future franchise, Forrest Gump and a nice resume of other big movies, does his best to capture the height and breadth of the story.
But for the first hour or so, I didn’t think Petit’s tale, the heart of it all, was totally compelling. Played by the perfect pick for gumption and gall and a bit of bombast, Levitt, but, a bit of so-what.
Zemeckis, though, was wily enough to leave a good chunk of his 123 minutes for the other co-star of the piece, his vision of the Twin Towers. They were under the final stages of construction that summer of 1974, looming bigger-than-life over Manhattan. Oh, how I miss them since our tragic day of 9/11 15 years ago. Freaking terrorists.
Petit developed quite an affair with them then, too. And Zemeckis puts the vision way up there when that man is walking his wire between them. It’s stunning. Simply breath-taking, panning out, looking down, peering across.
The Friday matinée crowd at the Regal Cinemas theater in Syracuse mall Shoppingtown numbered just a couple dozen. But I knew they were into it from the looks on their faces and conversation I caught departing.
Yes, it made it all worthwhile, that time up on the wire. Then and now.
Here’s the source for the photo of Petit.
When you see the tightrope walkers perform live, do you stare or look away in fright for them, and why? Do you think Petit was an artist or a criminal for The Coup, and why? What’s your favorite Zemeckis movie, and why?