A High Ambition for a Little Walk…
The true biopic about Philippe Petit, a highwire artist who walked between the Twin Towers in 1974.
THE WALK – Official Trailer [HD] – Oct 2015, Sony Pictures Entertainment and pictures © Sony Pictures Entertainment
As a very wee girl I went to the circus with my mum, dad and sisters and also watched David Copperfield’s Circus yearly extravaganza on the telly. These childhood experiences led to a lifelong hatred of clowns – were they ever funny? – but the admiration of tightrope walkers – due to my intense dislike of heights.
Later again as a family, we watched the musical Barnum – about PT Barnum, the famous circus showman – in the early 1980s, in its original London Production. I remember being in awe as the actor Michael Crawford – who played the clumsy, Frank Spencer of the British sit-com Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (1978) – sang, juggled and walked the high wire,.
We then gasped in horror as he fell, after which he jumped up again apparently unscathed. He covered himself, joking about this with a comic Frank Spencer line leaving me to wonder if it was part of the act. Either way, I was super impressed, with his performance and on reading more about Crawford learned that he was circus trained and did his own stunts in this comedy TV show. I was also probably more impressed with Crawford being the first celebrity I saw live and not on telly, but that’s a story for another day.
On hearing about the film The Walk (2015), Darlin’ Husband and I avoided it on its 3D showing at the local cinema, due to our mutual dislike of heights which even on-screen leads me to feel a wee bit icky. This I discovered even happens in the cinema, especially during Gravity (2013) – even George Clooney’s stories didn’t distract me – and in 2015’s Fast and Furious 7 (Jason Statham didn’t work either). I totally preferred the safety of watching this film on a smaller screen after hearing of the aerial shots and the plot of the movie.
The film tells of a Frenchman Philippe Petit played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the early 1970s Petit is a street performer, he mimes, juggles, rides his unicycle and does a high wire act in the Paris streets, illegally. These scenes set with a familiar soundtrack of 1970s tunes – albeit sung in French – are in black and white, with splashes of colour to fun effect.
After a magic trick where he catches a spectator’s gobstopper in his mouth, he gets toothache. Waiting for the dentist, in the waiting room, he falls in love…with a crazy but inspirational idea as he reads a magazine article of the Twin Towers being built in New York. Acquiring this article, with a sneeze to cover him ripping out the page, he tells us of this plan… he will walk between the two Towers on a high wire.
After a flashback to his childhood, he tells of his awe watching the White Devils highwire act in the circus, and their father, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley). He tells of him learning to use a tightrope with small, quick, subtle timelapse camera work shows the ropes reduce from him walking on 5 to 1 as his skills progress and his feet get bigger as he gets older.
This was a lovely way of showing it, and much more effective than the conventional montage. As an adult, he breaks into the circus top to try their high wire as you do. He is caught by Papa Rudy, but he catches his eye with his juggling. After money changes hands, Rudy agrees to teach Petit the tools and tricks of this art.
On route to work on his trusty unicycle Petit meets. falls out and falls for street performer Annie (Charlotte Le Bon). He tells her of his ambition, and she encourages him to follow it and this leads to a romance between them. At her art college in Paris, he meets a photographer, Jean-Louis and through him a mathematician, Jeff – who has vertigo – with all 3 becoming his accomplices. After a failure of his first official walk, he wire walks successfully – and illegally – at Notre Dame leading to his arrest.
His 3 friends work out ways to help him reach his goal, now set for August the 6th. On arrival in New York with Annie, he gets stage fright seeing the Towers. However, his faith is restored after he takes a sneaky look from the top of the unfinished building. More accomplices help him but then on one of Petit’s undercover information seeking sessions to the Twin Towers, his identity is rumbled by an employee at the building recognising him from the Notre Dame incident.
This film, like Eddie the Eagle (2016) is a comic interpretation of the story and a feel-good film for all the family. Gordon-Levitt plays this charismatic Frenchman vigorously adopting his best French accent and mannerisms and narrates the story throughout. Initially, this accent was amusing, then impressive as he’d then speak or argue in French.
Then a tad irritating as you met the French cast and felt any one of them could have played Petit despite Gordon-Levitt’s accent. However, Gordon-Levitt plays his role passionately and I’m sure I won’t be able to get my head around his lack of French accent next time I see him act. I read he trained with the real-life Petit for this role, and was able to walk on a high wire within 8 days! Not sure how long the accent – which he learnt from the French cast – took.
Le Bon plays a lovely supporting role as his romantic interest and his accomplices add to the bonhomie. There are some lovely inspirational ways Petit tells his plan to others involving international food and an apparent flair for origami. The aerial shots are fantastic, and I’m sure they look even more dauntingly impressive on the larger screen and in 3D. There are many moments that are so full of suspense and this was definitely a hand squeezer for both of us, unlike the other vertigo challenging movies mentioned. There is a nice wee epilogue added to the story, a nice touch that I last saw in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014).
And as for my wee epilogue, more recently I went with my 9-year-old niece on her birthday to the circus. I really enjoyed this trip with her, and remember her wide-eyed awe at the high wire walkers, not laughing at the clowns (maybe it’s hereditary) and enjoying a candy floss bigger than her head. She asked me about the tightrope walkers and how it’s done so this review is dedicated to her, but promise me something if you watch this film, wee one, don’t try this at home!
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating:🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂/10
Hulk Rating: /10
At the Circus Blogathon 2016, No 26
This review was submitted to the At the Circus Blogathon run by Serendipitous Anachronisms and Critica Retro. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also appears in my review of 500 Days of Summer. Ben Kingsley appears in Dave, my Best Actors Oscar Winners in Superhero Movies and Shutter Island.