by Sam Robinson
Rated PG. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Sir Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon. Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
One early morning in August 1974, New York workers were baffled to gaze into the sky and see a black dot – a man – walking on a wire between the World Trade Centre Twin Towers. There were no harnesses, no tricks, just a man on a wire carrying a long pole for balance.
Even to this day, the story of what French high-wire artist Philippe Petit did on that day is astounding. The Walk is a mostly factual retelling of the events that led up to (and including) “the walk”, and combined with Robert Zemeckis’ direction and 3D effects, it’s a wild ride. The film takes us to France where we see Petit (Gordon-Levitt) busking on the streets, and learning how to wire walk from Papa Rudy (Kingsley). He spies a newspaper story on the construction of the towers and instantly starts working towards his dream of walking high above New York City – carefully scoping out the location, recruiting accomplices to assist him in “the coup” and using the limited equipment he has to string up a wire, under the cover of darkness.
This film is really a dramatisation of the events as told in the 2008 film Man on Wire, which has seen many question the necessity of this film. But considering that no video footage was taken of Petit’s walk, this helps us to understand just how risky and incredible that New York morning was. Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Cast Away) is in his element bringing the adventure to life, and utilises 3D (thankfully, it’s not gimmicky) to give you the sweatiest palms possible, but still keeping the walk itself as a scene of beauty. Even if you go in knowing the story, there are moments that are still hard to watch, and there have been reports of people vomiting from vertigo after seeing this. But note: I’m terrified of heights and I coped OK with the dizzying climax.
As much as I enjoyed this film, there were moments that lost my confidence. The Walk is narrated by Petit from the Statue of Liberty with a dated New York cityscape in the background. These scenes spoiled the adventure for me, holding up the action and cheapening the story. I also felt that because so much of the film focuses on making a plan happen, we didn’t really get to see much of Petit’s personality or character depth.
‘If you lose your concentration, you lose your balance.’
The threat in high-wire walking, as Petit tells us, is losing your concentration. Looking down means that fear kicks in, knees become wobbly, and danger is imminent. As Petit takes every step across a void 110 storeys in the air without a harness, there is no room for error.
This reminded me of the beautiful story in the Bible where Peter enthusiastically wants to join Jesus across the water, but he loses his concentration, and danger is imminent. Matthew 14:28-30:
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Peter tried to walk to Jesus but lost his concentration, and this led to danger. For us who trust in Jesus, we are called to fix our eyes on him (Hebrews 12:1-3) as we walk day to day. We are to concentrate on him, live for him, we will know where we are headed, and continue on the path of eternity with him forever.
I enjoyed The Walk but was thankful I didn’t see it on an IMAX screen – I’m not brave enough for that! It tells an amazing true story that even days after seeing, I’m still baffled and amazed by. I’m giving it four out of five stars.
The Walk will be released in Australia on Thursday 15th October, and in the US and UK on Friday 9th October.