Philippe Petit. Born 13 August 1949 in Nemours Seine-et-Marne, France, Petit amazed audiences throughout Europe with his juggling and balancing acts. Much to the dismay of his parents, he continued with his acts, ultimately growing bored with them. Wishing to reinvent his art, he did so with an unauthorized high-wire act spanning the two spires of Notre Dame Cathedral in 1971. Following this stunt, he learned of the near-completion of the then new World Trade Center towers in New York City. His destiny, to walk a high-wire between the two towers is the subject of Robert Zemeckis’ awe-inspiring biopic, The Walk.
The amusing and tense screenplay by Zemeckis and Christopher Brown based on Philippe Petit’s novel “To Reach the Clouds,” features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the maestro himself. There is earnestness in the way he portrays the character, but it is always with a twinkle in his eye. He is supported by the lovely Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred Foot Journey) as Annie Alix, James Badge Dale as J.P. and the humourous Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy.
Told from a first-person perspective, with Gordon-Levitt on screen, the audience is treated to his unfolding journey: from a young age in France, struggling to find his footing, to meeting Annie and J.P. to planning and executing “le coup,” Zemeckis and Brown are keenly aware of the tale they are weaving and it is fun.
The tale could not be told, though, without the significant contributions of the creative talents behind the screen, most notably Jeremiah O’Driscoll’s brilliant editing, seamlessly branching first person and third person narrative together, Naomi Shohan’s strong production design aided by Ann Smart’s set decoration, bringing life to 1970s France and New York City, and Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski’s whose cinematography is full of light even during the nighttime scenes, brightening up tense moments while fully utilizing his canvas to convey the beauty of France and the height and the grandeur of Petit’s famous walk.
Converted in post-production, the 3D IMAX experience added depth and dimension to the visual and aural experience, enhancing the sensation of height and the overall feeling of the movie. This is a credit to Marc Reichel’s excellent special effects work, but also to Randy Thom’s enveloping sound design.
Bringing all of these elements together is a jazzy, percussive and playful score by the preeminent Oscar® nominated Alan Silvestri (Forrest Gump, The Abyss, Romancing the Stone, the Back to the Future trilogy). The score, supported by modern tracks, adds another dimension to the movie, helping to bring “le coup” full-circle.
Audiences may be turned off by the dizzying heights displayed in the movie, or the raw emotions at seeing the World Trade Center erected once again. As the French say, les carottes sont cuites or the carrots are cooked. Petit’s high-wire act was symbolic at giving the landmark a soul in the 70’s. Robert Zemeckis has given it a soul once again, one that honors and respects audiences. The Walk is highly recommended.