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FILM REVIEW: The Walk

A tribute to the human will. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley. 

I first learnt about Philippe Petit’s extraordinary story in 2010, while I was a student at drama school. We were creating a devised piece and using newspaper articles as inspiration, and I came across a short article discussing Petit’s story. I was taken by the madness, the impossibility and the passion of it all: how on earth could a human being possibly manage the feat of walking a tightrope between the twin towers?

I was certainly moved by the story, as was evident by the tightrope walking scene that came to feature in our devised piece (oh, memories). I’m not surprised that Petit’s story would serve as an inspiration to many – not as a thumbs-up that we should all walk physical tightropes thousands of metres in the sky, but rather, challenge ourselves to walk dangerously in our everyday lives, not taking ‘no’ for an answer and continually pushing the boundaries of what we think we are capable of. There is one Petit quote that I particularly love regarding this:

“Life should be lived on the edge… You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge – and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope.”

When it comes to this filmic adaptation, it’s quite clear what we’re really there for: the moment Gordon-Levitt as Petit steps out onto the wire. Essentially, you could break The Walk into two halves – the first a sort of fast forward breakdown of Petit’s life and inspiration, and the second half the build-up to and actual act of the walk.

Visually and emotionally, the actual walk itself does not disappoint. While we know that Petit pulls it off, it’s as if for a good half hour we throw away any knowledge of historical accuracy, and genuinely fear for Petit’s life, in some fraction of the way that onlookers must have done that fateful day in New York.

In addition to this, the film does an excellent job in building up the ‘day of,’ chronicling an elaborate (and wonderfully insane) process of events that get Petit and his team to the top of the towers. In my mind the real star of the build-up is the character of Jeff (César Domboy), one of Petit’s accomplices who has a fear of heights. His performance is so gentle and honest that you can’t help but root for him just as much as Petit, as he finds himself facing his fear countless times and coming out strong as a loyal companion. Someone give the man a hug and a beer!

The background information into Petit’s life, while not the the most thrilling dramatic action, was essential to bringing us to the climax of the film. It was particularly lovely to see how the multiple accomplices in Petit’s plan slowly but perfectly fell into place, especially the unexpected meeting of Jean-Pierre, an electronic salesman.

When I left the cinema, I thought that the film was ‘good.’ Not mind-blowing, but still good nonetheless. However, upon longer reflection, I realised that there was a certain cleverness about the way the film was pieced together, the choice of key moments staged and their timing (with the first hour dedicated to background and the second hour consisting solely of the build-up and walk.)

Now, I’d say the film was more than just ‘good’ – it was masterfully nuanced, delicately balanced between keeping its audience engaged and remaining faithful to Petit’s story.

RATING: 4/5 stars ****