A Thrilling “Walk” of a Lifetime
By Skip Sheffield
Afraid of heights? Better steer clear of “The Walk.” On the other hand if you like dizzying thrills, this reenactment of Phillippe Petit’s amazing 1974 World Trade Center high wire walk offers some bracing good jolts.
The World Trade Center twin towers were destroyed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. This fact lends a sobering, macabre quality to this fictionalized documentary.
Phillippe Petit is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in what I think is his best performance to date. Gordon-Levitt not only spoke French and English with a French accent, he mastered a very close approximation of walking a tightrope 110 stories in the air. The average person may consider Phillippe Petit a suicidal madman. Thereby lays part of his crazy appeal. Gordon-Levitt captures that craziness in a cheerful, upbeat way. The actor received training from Petit himself.
Director Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”) had a hand in writing the screenplay, starting with a brief history of Petit’s career as a street performer in Paris. Along the way he befriended a beautiful French girl, Annie Allix, played by real-life Parisian Charlotte Le Bon. Charlotte also coached Gordon-Levitt is perfecting his French accent.
Conquering the World Trade Center towers took six years of planning and crucial accomplices every step of the way. Spanning the 200 feet between the towers, 1,350 feet or a quarter of a mile above the Earth, was a three-stage process. The first stage was a bow and arrow hooked to monofilament fishing line.
Petit’s stunt, accomplished in the early hours of the morning on Aug. 7, 1974, has been hailed as “The artistic crime of the century.” Although they were required to arrest Petit, the cops of NYPD and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were clearly on the daredevil’s side. In what was a win-win for everyone, Petit’s charges were dismissed in exchange for a free public performance in Central Park. The World Trade Center, unloved by many when it was built, got much-needed positive publicity. Phillippe Petit remained in New York City and was granted a lifetime pass to the observation decks of the World Trade Center. Though it is about a French man, “The Walk” is a movie that makes you proud to be an American.