The Walk Parent Review
The suspense leading up to Philippe’s grand tight-rope attempt feels much like waiting and waiting in a long line to ride the biggest roller coaster you can imagine.
Most screenplays claiming to be based on a true story do their utmost best to make the impossible seem real. The Walk flips this practice on its head and instead presents us with a real event that unspools much more like a fairy tale. It’s follows a man’s dream to walk on a high wire between the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. And it sentimentally depicts America in1974 as a land of innocence and hope.
What led Philippe Petit to walk 110 stories above the ground on a wire cable is the focus of the first two-thirds of this movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the doggedly determined young Frenchman who narrates his backstory while standing atop the Statue of Liberty, a prominent symbol freedom and France (the land that gifted the monument to the US), with a commanding view of 1970s Manhattan.
Philippe explains how he has been beguiled by acrobatic acts ever since he was a child. While sneaking into the big top, he meets Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), the manager of a small circus who eventually becomes his mentor and lets him to practice on the high wire after the show.
It goes without saying Philippe’s parents are not happy with their son’s fascination or his career ambitions. So Philippe sets off for Paris where he works (without a permit) as a street performer. There his antics attract the attention of a nice girl named Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), whom he charms into being both his girl friend and his first “accomplice” in his Trade Tower tightrope-walking scheme.
Yet before he stages this artistic “coup”, he must start with something smaller, like traversing a wire strung between the towers adorning the Notre Dame de Paris. When that proves a success, (and he is only arrested for a short time) Philippe sets his sites on The Big Apple. Preparations for this next death-defying (and illegal) feat include enlisting more helpers, gathering information by spying on the construction crews at the Trade Centers, and asking Papa Rudy for his technical expertise—again.
The humor, drama and suspense leading up to Philippe’s grand attempt feel much like waiting in a long line to ride the biggest roller coaster you can imagine. It’s about 80 minutes of anticipation prior to a half hour of incredible spectacle. While the preamble will hardly justify the extra cash it takes to see the film in IMAX 3D, the investment pays off the moment Philippe takes his first step onto the cable suspended between the two high-rises. The breathtaking perspective not only justifies the use of 3D, but also makes this one of the best applications I have seen of this usually annoying technology. Although the palm-sweeting feeling of being suspended 1368 feet (417 meters) above the pavement will likely still be compelling on smaller screens, it is even more convincing in the huge scale of IMAX.
Cinematography and special effects aside, there are elements of this movie that may be concerns for parents. First, and foremost, you may not feel inclined to cheer on Philippe’s example of stunting, trespassing and law breaking. Although Philippe’s voice-over reminds us time and again that this is an artistic performance, and one of his friends explains, “All artists are anarchists, to some degree”, their act is still one of civil disobedience that required him and his accessories to place themselves in legal jeopardy. Nor will the light penalties attached to their violations provide much of a warning to others who might be tempted to follow in their daredevil footsteps.
This film’s PG rating in the U.S. may also leave families confused, especially during a comedic scene depicting two guys smoking pot (drug use typically calls for an R-rating). The screenplay also contains tobacco use, an extended view of Gordon-Leavitt’s naked backside and a smattering of profanities, scatological slang and religious terms.
In the end, your enjoyment of The Walk will depend on how you view Philippe Petit’s performance. Was it a foolish endeavor that put himself and others at risk for the sole purpose of fulfilling his own narcissistic desire? Or did it inspire us to reach for our own dreams and not let obstacles (including, in this case, the law) stand in our way? For audiences, that is the tightrope this visually astounding movie balances upon.Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale. Running time: 123 minutes. Updated May 12, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Walk here.
The Walk Parents Guide
Is Philippe’s performance inspiring to you? Or do you see him as simply trying to fulfill a narcissistic desire? What would you risk your life for? Should a reckless idea be followed, even if it is a dream? Do you think stories like this one might encourage others to perform dangerous feats?
A character in this film says, “All artists are anarchists, to some degree.” What does this mean? Do you think it’s true? Does calling an illegal activity “art” somehow make it justified? What examples of art can you think of that may be seen by others as vandalism?
Philippe refuses to work with a safety belt because he would be “lying” to his audience. How do you feel about that statement? What choice would you make if you were doing a dangerous performance?
The Twin Towers of The World Trade Center were initially not appreciated by residents of Manhattan, many of whom felt they were too large for the neighborhood. How did Philippe’s performance change their perception? How does this movie present the Twin Towers? What symbols do you see in this film that represent liberty? What is the filmmaker trying to say about the New York City of 1974 compared to New York City today? What problems were affecting the city in 1974?