For a man whose name literally means ‘little’, Phillippe Petit had a very big dream. To tightrope walk between the two tallest buildings in the world (at the time, in 1974) – The World Trade Centre Towers. The Walk, directed by Robert Zemeckis, tells the story of Petit, an ambitious artist, in his attempt to fulfil this dream.
The film begins in Paris, during Petit’s childhood. It is shot romantically, with a wonderfully thick French accent curtesy of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays our protagonist, to narrate the story throughout.
The use of narration is important as this film was written by Zemeckis and Christopher Browne, based on Petit’s book To Reach The Clouds – which documents his experience.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is precise in his performance, and believably so. We believe that this is the man that plans to walk between the towers, and we believe that he has the skill to do it – and of course, there is such a likeable quality about Gordon-Levitt that his choice of casting becomes obvious as you watch.
As the film progresses through his younger years, gaining experience which leads him to New York, we meet his love interest Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), mentor Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), photographer friend Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), and Jeff (Cesar Domboy) who become his team of accomplices in attempting the highly dangerous, and highly illegal, coup.
As the story takes us to the USA, we leave behind the cobbled, foliage-lined streets of Paris and are transported to the concrete jungle of New York City. This change of landscape is marked well by the film, as from the moment we set our eyes on the Twin Towers, the shooting style shifts, and the dazzling height of the buildings are accentuated through tracks and dives from the top and the bottom of the towers.
The intricate use of a walk around camera lens to capture such heights, and emphasise them through fluid movement of the camera, creates a stunning 360 view of the New York landscape, whilst also accentuating the danger of being so far away from the ground. This, coupled with the films’ 3D cinematic release, creates a breathtaking and dizzying sense of vertigo in the audience, but also a sense of freedom through the elation that Petit feels.
The sound design in this film is perfect – with music and sound effects that build tension to an excruciating level as he takes his first steps across the wire. The creaking of rope, the erratic heartbeat of our protagonist, the whistle of the early morning wind, all come together to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
In addition to all of this, the way that Phillippe Petit idolises the World Trade Centre, as the centre of his hopes and dreams, sheds a wonderful and positive light on the buildings that have become a beacon of sadness and loss since the terror attacks of 9/11. This is not addressed by the film in any way, and this quality of wonder, possibility and almost innocence that the buildings represent in the film is refreshing for a modern portrayal – and effective in helping us to share and revel in Petit’s dream.
The Walk is daring, thrilling and heartfelt – the purest heist film you will ever see – that takes advantage of modern computer technology in order to recreate a story that has to be seen to be believed. A film that proves that anything is possible through the impossible dream of one man, who dared to face death to truly live.