The second in IMAX spectacle features after the snowy daring of ‘Everest’. This one fares better though and gladly so, as it gives us less characters with more focus, a more engaging artistic story and fun creativity in the setting up of this mans story to ascend to the clouds but not on a mountain.
Ever since Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was a young boy, he had aspirations of high wire acts and once he sees there’s construction of the Twin Towers in New York, he makes it his mission to get a team together and plan to join and then walk a wire across the World Trade Center.
There can be do denial here that this movie directed by Robert Zemeckis has that feeling of a heist flick. The actual walk itself is a small step near the end of this journey. I feel Zemeckis delivers more punch and pizzazz before the walking moments. As I said, this heist theme runs throughout with confident arty Frenchman Petit evading rules and police to follow his dreams. The run of scenes with him scouting the building of the towers and his way up them are dealt with fantastically, feeling the strongest parts of the movie for me.
Screenplay wise, Zemeckis and Christopher Browne make a good thing out of Petit’s book, ‘To Reach the Clouds’. This true story as they say can feel far fetched but then that just goes to show what a dynamic character Philippe was and assuredly still is. The way they bring in narration to open the plot could be dumb and yes it whacks with exposition but it’s dealt with in a creative and also visual flair that helps invite us in. The travel through his life is interesting and we get why he’s up for this death-defying act. The only wobbly steps are with the relationship with Annie that never feels alive and the walk itself.
I heard one audience member behind me gasp loudly as he shakes near the end of his extended showmanship, but I didn’t get why. The walk was the lamest part for me, after all the build up I didn’t even think the visuals were truly astounding. IMAX suits the sky piercing towers well and gives the film depth and scale but it all looked green screen and graphic created to me like the effects team putting out their elongated money shot for the Academy. As he kept going back and forth I grew tired of the routine, honestly. I may be saying something mad here as he did do this for real, but the walk of The Walk was the least interesting note to take away from this film.
Alan Silvestri’s score does feel magical and sweeps high and low for the character driven moments, from Philippe’s first step out onto the wire to the paranoid midnight ‘coffin’ fixing he does. The music may be the only reason I got gripped as Petit lays on the wire to take in the sky above. The opening Parisian sequence with black and white as the canvas gifts the movie that fantastic creative flair I mentioned before and then from the initial mention of the NY World Trade Center to the credits there’s that unshakable feeling you get of knowing they’re not there anymore, it makes the last line of the film utterly powerful even for someone not from the city or America.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt sinks under his blackened hair and blue contacts to deliver a clownish performance as the driven artistic mind of Philippe Petit. The French accent is convincing, it may waver a couple of times but that’s it, he pulls of the vocal very well. In his eyes you can see that determination but worried vulnerability as he wonders whether the Towers and the wire will be kind to him. Ben Kingsley comes along for a few scenes and does his thing to almost steal the show. Skipping from wise teacher to mad uncle, he helps Petit along the way with strong advice and mentoring. Charlotte Le Bon arrives with a graceful presence with her musical dreams and through her acting we see her commitment to Petit but her love fades as she loses her grip on her own dreams.
A fun film that does it’s work for the family, it has no grit or biographical feel that gives it any true weight but Levitt and the visuals are sparky throughout to muster up the enjoyment factor.