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On the Wire: The Thrills of 'The Walk'

Updated on October 18, 2016

Genius or Madness?

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High-wire Artistry

In a time frame of just two hours and three minutes, the film The Walk (2015) displays the real life story of what man is capable of when focus, drive, and passion combine. A love letter to New York and a solemn hymn to those who perished and experienced injuries in the 1993 bombing of The World Trade Center and the attacks of September 11, 2001, the film follows the exploits of Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the ambitious wire walker. From his days in France, the desire and deftness exude from the screen as the camera shows Petit’s rise from amateur to accomplished artiste.

Director Robert Zemeckis hones in on Petit at his most charming and daring when performing for a crowd of folks on the street to hecklers in boats. With the introduction of Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon) Petit ups the ardor in courting her. But the “coup ” develops to reinforce Petit’s goal. That is the name that Petit gives to the planned walk from the North Tower to the South Tower (and back). To pull off this coup (and to provide comic relief) a host of characters form. Petit demonstrates esprit de corps with his cohorts who aid him in his quest to paint a portrait using a balance pole and a cable. His bravado propels him to succeed faced with the criticisms of Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley). His éclat while up in the air on the rope leads him to lay back while still balancing. This is near romantic realism. This is a showing of the possibility to defy the odds and do it with flair and dedication. The will of one man to stand in the face of certain death (and win) elucidates the power of the human mind as applied to a physical feat. The patience and understanding of the danger and risk instilled in Petit from studying in his early days the high-wire act The White Devils become apparent in the film.

The film employs heart-stopping cinematic techniques to make the audience jump and ooh and ahh. As far as computer generated images (CGI) go, Zemeckis’ work presents the highest in quality. While most movies use them to distract and fill the scene just for that sake, here, CGI pulls the viewer into the film and holds him as tight as the wire in the clouds. Run, don’t walk, to see The Walk.


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