You can’t help but get pumped when he’s up on the wire for The Walk

(From IMDb.com)

(From IMDb.com)

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.

The real moment in 1974. (From history.com)

The real moment in 1974. (From history.com)

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?

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39 thoughts on “You can’t help but get pumped when he’s up on the wire for The Walk

  1. Have you seen the documentary “Man on Wire,” Mark? Amazing film. My son already has an opinion that he doesn’t want to see this fictionalized version, but I might be up for it. Love Zemeckis as a director — some favorites include “Romancing the Stone,” “Back to the Future,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and “Castaway” (which I was recalling when I saw “The Martian” earlier this weekend).

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  2. I have not seen this film,. The thought of someone willingly walking across a tightrope that high up makes me feel very, very nervous. I think my favorite movie is Forest Gump, but then I really loved the first Back to the Future – have wanted a DeLorean ever since.

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      • There is a guy in town that drives a DeLorean and every time I see it, I drool a little. Such a cool car!!!! When my Dad bought me my car while I was attending college, I had asked if I could have a Delorean….. I ended up with a Chevette (with only an AM radio). But I was grateful!!! Actually it turned out to be a super little car but not super cool like the DeLorean would have been.

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      • Yes, several (tens of) thousands of dollar gap between your want and your need, SD. My first car was a Chevy Nova, and two-years-through-college present from my parents. It had a rusted-out floorboard that would have allowed me to go Fred Flintstone on my starting and stopping if I had chosen. And an AM radio. But this 69 car in 1977 was surely sweet to me. 🙂

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  3. Hmmm, I wasn’t aware of the real story although I have seen the trailers for the film. I didn’t think it looked like it would sustain interest – but you seem to have enjoyed it Mark.

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  4. It’s great when a writer, director, and the lot, can make a movie like this work. It is a kind of abstract subject if you think about it. Petit was an artist for sure. Gives me vertigo just looking at the pictures.

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  5. Forrest Gump…hands-down favorite. The history and the music spoke to me like a bittersweet memory. I wonder if The Walk will be difficult for folks to watch, for purely sentimental reasons about those twin towers. And also…for anyone with a fear of heights !
    Thanks for your always interesting posts, Mark. I had a stressful week and missed a few days recently, but yours is one of those blogs that I make an effort to revisit. ❤️

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  6. He’s an artist for sure. I don’t think I can cope with the screaming anxiety this movie would give me, but I certainly appreciate the talents of all involved. I don’t have a favorite movie. More like a Top 100.

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  7. Just by chance, the documentary was on TV yesterday, showing footage of Petit in a green field, constructing wires with his friends, who shook the wires to see how long he could balance. My first thought was–this dude is blue-eyed and redheaded? Why did they pick Levitt? That makes less sense than that dude who doesn’t really resemble Steve Jobs in THAT new movie. But Levitt is a great actor, yes. Watching for about 30 min, seeing accomplices come and go, once they realized he could die and they would be a part of it, seeing him and his cohorts hiding for hours underneath tarp on the top floor–it just made me think he was batship crazy. I wondered how were they eating with no jobs? Who paid for their flights? What was the best case scenario? He completes the walk and then what? It’s still illegal. It does look great visually. Probably have to go to a good theatre.

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  8. I would have to go to Movie University to even begin to answer any of these questions! 😉 But I kind of want to see the movie. I don’t think I could watch because I would only be doing so to make sure he didn’t fall and then would realize there are only 2 outcomes, fall, or not. And that is the only reason to watch. So I wouldn’t watch. If the fall option happened I would not want to be watching it. And no, don’t think it should have been done.

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    • Yes, it was risky and dumb and outlandish and perfect for Zemeckis’ camera treatment and effects, MBC. But I get where you’re coming from about now wanting to see half of the possible outcome.

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  9. I stare. But I’m tightening some hinder muscles hoping there’s no falling involved. That photo above gives me chills. I like Gump and Future a lot…but I’ll go with Romancing the Stone.

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