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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Walk (IMAX 3D) | Joseph Gordon Leavitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Steve Valentine, Ben Schwartz | Review

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4sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD Judy Thorburn

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4lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is GOOD

 

The Walk

Decades before the twin towers of the World Trade Center were hit by the horrific act of terrorism on 9/11, the world's tallest skyscrapers were the setting for a memorable act of a very different kind. In the summer of 1974, 24 year old French daredevil Philippe Petit performed his historic high-wire walk between the two towering buildings.  The mind boggling, seemingly impossible feat had never been attempted before, took months of planning, and Petit would be the only man in history to achieve it. Petit's story was first brought to the big screen in James Marsh's Oscar winning 2008 documentary 'Man On Wire'.  That was then and this is now.

Working from a solid script co-written with Christopher Browne from Philippe Petit's book “To Reach The Clouds” Oscar winning director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”) does a remarkable job telling the true story of Petit and his small band of accomplices that helped him pull off what was referred to as the 'the artistic crime of the century”.

In The Walk's opening scene, we first meet Petit (portrayed by Joseph Gordon Levitt) standing on the torch of the Statue of Liberty, a gift to America from the French.  It is there that he narrates his story,  told in flashbacks beginning in his childhood when he first saw and was mesmerized by a tightrope act during a visit to the circus and knew that was what he wanted to do. Years later, while working as a street performer, his obsession to fulfill his dream of walking across the twin towers was sparked after picking up a magazine in the waiting room of a dentist's office and seeing drawings of the soon to be constructed WTC towers. When asked, “Why do you risk death”, Petit's response was “For me, it is life”. I would add Petit's life was, literally, a balancing act.

Reminiscent of a heist movie, the unfolding story follows how he planned and executed the death defying feat with immaculate precision.  With advice from his mentor/advisor, Czech trapeze artist Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), Petit, accompanied by his supportive street singer girlfriend and first accomplice, Annie  (Charlotte Le Bon) arrive in New York in 1974.  Soon, other accomplices are recruited to help Petit realize his dream including a photographer (Clement Sibony), a young French math teacher (Ben Schwartz) with a fear of heights,  a French speaking New Yorker (James Badge Dale), a couple of American stoners, and Barry Greenhouse (Steve Valentine), an insurance salesman that becomes his inside man.

To prepare for what he called the “coupe”, Petit builds a model of the towers, but needs to study the towering structures up close and personal. That means sneaking into the towers adorned in various disguises such as an architect so he can spy on the maintenance workers, ride the elevators, and along with his cohorts, impersonate construction workers to smuggle the necessary installation equipment including wires, cables, ropes and his balance pole to the 110th floor. Oh yes, there is also a bow and arrow that comes into play.

After a few set backs and postponement, and everything is put into place and secure, the time finally arrives on the morning of August 7 for the 140 foot walk across the cable, 1350 feet high above the bustling streets of Manhattan. Watching it in IMAX 3D, aided by excellent cinematography (by Dariusz Wolski) and the magic of computer generated imagery, I was pulled in, feeling like I was right there alongside Petit, experiencing what it was like to take every step in which he had to keep his mental and physical concentration because any loss of balance or mistake could be fatal. For those like myself who have a fear of heights, be forewarned, watching this incredible recreation of Petit's famous walk, which involves walking back and forth back, kneeling and lying down, is frightening, heart pounding, and had me squirming in my seat. I couldn't help but wonder why anyone in their right mind would want to attempt this insane act knowing there is no safety net to save you, if you were to fall.

The Walk features an excellent supporting cast, but it is Joseph Gordon Levitt's charismatic performance, complete with believable French accent and ability to speak fluent French, that carries the film. He does an excellent job evoking Petit's persona, steadfast determination, fearlessness, arrogance, and whose dream, as big as the towers, could not be taken away.

Along with paying tribute to Petit and his miraculous high wire feat, the film is a heartfelt tribute to the World Trade Center, which stood as an architectural accomplishment and beautiful addition to the New York skyline. Like Petit, it commanded attention and left an impression that would forever stay in our memories, just as this film will, too.

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