Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz
Released: October 9, 2015
If you've seen the 2008 documentary, Man On Wire (which won the Oscar), then you are familiar with the story of Philippe Petit, the French famed high-wire walker who walked between the two World Trade Center Building towers when they were first built back in '74. This guy is lucky to be alive because my God, you would have to be stupid or insane (or both!) to do that. Though I imagine if he had not been so lucky, I doubt there would have been a movie made about it...we don't need another depressing story involving the World Trade Center! I had actually never heard about him and the crazy stunt he did until the documentary came out.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Petit and he does a passable job with the French accent. We get a background of his childhood and early years and his love for entertaining people in the streets of Paris where he did magic tricks and worked as a mime for money. He falls in love with wire walking when he goes to a circus and sees it being performed for the first time and sneaks into the circus tent to try it. His soon-to-be mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kinglsey) chases him out of the circus tent, but is impressed by Petit's juggling skills. He teaches Philipe how to tie knots and rig up the ropes. Philippe learns to wire walk in a park with a rope only a few feet off the ground. He becomes friends with a photographer named John Louis (Clement Sibony) who he will later hire to join his coup and becomes romantically involved with another street performer named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon....I thought she was Katie Holmes with a French accent when I saw the trailer for this!)
While waiting in a dentist's office, Philipe sees the World Trade Center being advertised in a magazine. The ad states they will be the tallest buildings in the world when finished and compares how much taller they will be compared to the Eiffel Tower. He is determined to wire walk between the two buildings. Why anyone would want to walk across a thin piece of cable between two 110 story buildings where the distance from point A to point B is 150 feet is beyond me. Even Papa Rudy, who supports Philippe, tells him he would never want any of his tight-rope walking sons to ever do anything like that ....because it's so stupid! Okay, I added that last part, but I'm sure it's what he was thinking! Philippe said he wanted to be the only person in the world to do that because it would make him special. I have never understood people like him who do crazy stunts like that just because they want to get famous and gain notoriety...but it certainly worked for him.
Petit calls his mission to walk between the two tall buildings "The Coup" and hires more accomplices to help him including someone who is terrified of heights. I feel like that's the worst quality you could get someone to help you in a task like this! But he's really good at math so they think he will be useful in that regard. They plan to get more people "working on the inside" to help them when they get to New York.
Petit practices wire-walking between two points of Notre Dame. While still high and he could have easily killed himself if he fell, it was nowhere near as high as what he would be doing in New York! He picks August 7 as the day he will be performing his stunt. The night before, he gets very anxious and keeps going over their plan for The Coup. Before he left, Papa Rudy told him he should use a safety harness, but Petit, having too much pride, refused. I must say, I'm on Papa Rudy's side on this. So you wear the harness and if you make it, you're so far up that nobody can even see you wearing it (although he did have his photographer friend taking photos so perhaps he was worried about that?), or God forbid, if you happen to fall, then at least you'll still be attached to the wire as you're dangling in the air. I don't think people are going to get mad that you're wearing a harness because at least you're not dead on the ground!
They get everything set up, but not without a few hiccups. I remembered a lot of this stuff from Man On Wire. Annie, on the ground, stays up the entire night with binoculars. At one point, the next morning, Petit is changing into his "costume" (just blank pants and a black turtleneck) on the side of the building. It is the literal side of the building as he jumps over a rail guard and is perched on just a few inches of building. (As you can see from the above photo). Even though I know this is all green screen, the visual effects are very effective because I definitely got a sense of wooziness whenever he did that. He drops his turtleneck and Annie sees something falling and is freaking out until she realizes it's only an article of clothing. Can you imagine if you were about to perform a stunt that would receive world recognition (which it did) only to fall off the building before you even attempted it?
At one point, he and the guy afraid of heights have to hide from a security guard who has come up to the roof and Petit has him go over the rail. I felt so bad for the guy! I think that would terrify anyone whether or not you had a fear of heights! It didn't seem to scare Philippe which I guess is why he's the perfect person to do something so crazy. He has a long pole he holds which much help him with his balance. He crosses the towers once, which was his original intent. Annie sees him crossing and tells pedestrians all around her to look up and soon a large crowd will gather. If I were on the ground that day, I would NOT look because I would be too scared for him. I would be the person covering her eyes telling me to open them when it's over!
When Petit gets to the other side, he says there is something calling him to cross back to the original tower from where he started from. Okay, this makes sense because if this had been a task on The Amazing Race (though they would have been wearing safety harnesses!), they would have to cross once and then back. But then he ends up crossing the wire six times which is insane when once would have sufficed! At one point, Annie mutters to herself, "Okay, Philippe, that's enough, time to come down" and I would have been thinking the same thing if I were her! Like, quit being stupid before you get yourself killed.
The reason he keeps on the wire is because the police have come up on both towers so he's goading them. He seems to get either very comfortable or very confident and "bows" to the towers, sits on the wire, and LAYS DOWN. What the hell is wrong with this man? There's a scene earlier in the movie when he's practicing on a high wire in the circus tent and he's done well and only has three steps left, but ends up falling and catches the wire. Papa Rudy tells him he must never lose his concentration and not get too cocky. I feel like he was getting a little too cocky doing all these insane stunts. He is really lucky nothing went wrong!
The police send up a helicopter to tell him he needs to get off the wire. I can't remember if this was in the documentary or not because I feel like having a helicopter hovering above a wire walker would be very distracting and add even more danger to his situation. One officer threatened that if he wasn't going to get off, he would have to come out there to get him which made me laugh, because, oh please, like that guy's really going to step on the wire, let alone step over the side of the building! Once Petit steps off the building, he is immediately arrested, but as he's walking handcuffed through the building, everyone is applauding him and he becomes an overnight worldwide sensation.
During the movie, he is narrating from the Statue of Liberty with a view of the World Trade Center in the background. This was a little confusing because I was wondering if he was narrating from a few years after '74 or it was the "present" (although the WTC wouldn't be there and Petit is in his 60s now so it wouldn't make sense for JGL to play him as he is currently), but then without mentioning 9/11, he mentions 9/11 and you don't see the towers in the background anymore and it's quite depressing, but then the camera pans and you see the towers! What the hell? I guess it was suppose to be symbolic more than anything. I remember them never mentioning anything about 9/11 in Man On Wire which I always found odd since Petit had such a special attachment to the buildings; much more special than anyone else would have. In The Walk, he says that he was granted a pass to go on the observation deck and it would never expire and he could visit anything he wanted. Super depressing. While I knew there was that restaurant, Windows on the World, near the top of one of the buildings that had a great view of the city, I had no idea there was an observation deck on the roof. That's quite terrifying knowing that now!
Can I just say this movie has one of the worst titles I've ever heard: The Walk. I mean, are you kidding me with how boring and generic that sounds? Ooh, let's go see a movie called The Walk. Nobody would want to see that. Horrible name. The documentary got the much better name! And while I enjoyed The Walk, Man on Wire is the superior film.