In 2008 I received a package containing my next batch of screeners for upcoming DVDs. One of the films from Magnolia Pictures immediately caught my eye, ‘Man on Wire,' a documentary about the tightrope walker Philippe Pettit’s death-defying walk between the towers of the World Trade Center. As a New Yorker, I had seen those towers being built through the windows of the train I took to school each day. I remember the news headlines of this remarkable stunt in the subsequent arrest of Mr. Petit. The documentary of this event was an incredible film and one the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary. Now a dramatization of this event has been released has made its way to Blu-ray, ‘The Walk.' I must admit I had some trepidation approaching this film in part because of the excellence of the documentary and because the event was part of my personal history as a New Yorker. Or the most intriguing aspects of this release were that it was presented in 3-D. But curiosity was greatly teeth as to the potential person dazzling shots taken from the vantage point of a man standing on a wire so high above the streets of Manhattan. Trepidation gave way to anticipation as I began to read the press release which listed Robert Zemeckis as the director. As a filmmaker, he is one of our best cinematic storytellers having won Academy award for his direction of ‘Forrest Gump.' He has also significantly contributed to cinematic zeitgeist such works as the ‘Back to the Future Saga’ and demonstrated his uncanny ability to drive a movie solely to character development with the film such as ‘Cast Away.' It was also a favorable sign to learn that the all-important lead character would be portrayed by one of the most promising actors of his generation, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. While it would be impossible for a fictionalization of such an event, The Walk did manage to turn out to be one of the more well-crafted entertaining films of the year.
Some of the great achievements in history have inspired through serendipity, a seemingly small, insignificant occurrence or circumstance plants the seed in the imaginative mind that road to be something memorable throughout time. For Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) he had no idea that his life would change and he would make history but a spectator in a crowd watching one of his performances gave him a hard candy. Philippe wound up chipping a tooth while enjoying the candy which resulted in a trip to the dentist. While in the waiting room he happened to see in magazine cover that depicted the World Trade Center towers. A significant part of his act was walking a tightrope, trusting his life to his skill for keeping his feet planted on a thin able to spend it on over the streets. He studied the photograph intently to bear his long years of experience in the setup of such endeavors and decides that would be able to transverse distance between the towers. Almost instantly a spark of inspiration had turned into to an all-consuming to accomplish it successfully. This we are and after the caliber of Mr. Levitt are crucial to the success of the film. He would have to bring his talent and experience to bear instructing his performance to have the audience driven by a challenge and not completely crazy. The nuances he applies to his performance of an incredible effect on the audience transporting us into the mind use the impossible is a challenge in the extraordinary potential that just one of many factors that would have to be taken into account during the planning. It should come as no surprise that Philippe’s parents would not be bursting with pride over their son’s calling. His father Patrick Baby) informs him that they are no longer willing to carry him financially but he has to do something other than being a street performer, something that will earn it a living. He decides to go to the circus that is inspired him as a child, the place that sparked his interest in wire walking. During a practice session on the wire he sits and falls to be caught by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) would not is the young man’s skill set juggling and feels he has potential as an entertainer. Life is beginning to turn in Philippe’s favor as he also meets a beautiful street performer, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), and Sunni romance has blossomed between the idealistic pair. Around this time another person pivotal to Philippe’s life introduced, Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony), an aspiring photographer who offers the document Philippe’s escalating endeavors.
In some ways, there was a lot in common between this film and a biography of a notable sports figure. The possibility of a surprise ending is nonexistent since his feat is a part of the historical record. This must be addressed by shifting the emphasis of the story from the destination to the journey showing how Philippe considered each failure not as this setback but as a learning experience to refine his technique. This is demonstrated by how one performance ended with him falling into a lake which just increased a determination for redemption by walking a wire attached between the spires of the Notre Cathedral. Performance is a success but answered them being arrested by the local police. Jean-Louis introduces Jeff (César Domboy) to Philippe to serve as an assistant with the meticulous preparation and rigging that has to be accomplished before he wants to be attempted. Quite willing to help just had to overcome his fear of heights to be effective.
Before they can go to New York City and attempt the big coup, some technical difficulties have to be overcome. Among the most fundamental and most difficult is how to string the cable between the two towers. Since the authorities will not sanction this performance, they had to devise some means to connect the cables surreptitiously yet not in a way that would compromise the integrity and stability of the wire. It seemed that the actual day of the performance plagued with some setbacks such as some unexpected issues with the guards and dropping the wire on the roof. Eventually, everything is all set, and Philippe begins his walk. He crosses the chasm a total of six times killing the crowd by kneeling and even lying down on the wire. The police threatened to remove them by helicopter but afraid of what that might do decide to wait until he completes his performance. He is arrested and instantly becomes a media sensation not only in New York but around the world. I remember seeing photographs in the New York daily news and the New York Post showing the tiny figure of a man on a nearly invisible line of wire high above the ground. Images like that tend to be burnt into your memory forever which made watching this film even more personal than ever. This is also where Robert Zemeckis was able to showcase his already well-established and well-earned reputation as a visually creative director. His use of 3-D techniques is nothing short of breathtaking he has moved far past the usual gimmicks of thrusting objects in your face to prove that you see the illusion of depth. This film embraces the third dimension to create an all-encompassing sense of realism. 3-D shots from the perspective of Philippe afford the audience with an intimacy of the event that was unimaginable before this movie. When accompanied with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 sparks each of your speakers the life pulling you directly into the action. I decided to watch this is a double feature with the ‘Man on Wire’ documentary and although it does point out some dramatic license that required for dramatization it provides both intellectually factual and viscerally creative view of one man making his dream come true.
Posted 01/02/2016 Posted 09/23/2017