Metro-East Living

Daredevil tightrope walk has perfect balance

What It’s About

A remarkable one-of-a-kind daredevil feat is meticulously recalled in “The Walk,” a visually majestic testament to fulfilling impossible dreams.

Determined French wire-walker Phillippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the Don Quixote tilting at windmills in this truth-based tall tale.

A charming busker on the streets of Paris, he is captivated by a photo of the Twin Towers, under construction, at the World Trade Center in New York City. Targeting the summer of 1974, he hatches a plan for what he describes as “The Coup,” to set up a tightrope between the rooftops of the two buildings. That is 1,350 feet up in the air.

The pixie-like Phillippe enlists key accomplices for his flight of fancy, including girlfriend Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), photographer Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony), and math-whiz Jean-Francois (Cesar Domboy), although he is afraid of heights — this comes into play during the stealth set-up.

He is also mentored by Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), a long-time Czech circus troupe operator, and based on his practical advice, he puts his plan in motion. Circumventing dangers and authorities presents a whole panoply of challenges. (Keep an ear out for a mega-star vocal cameo during night watchman rounds).

In New York City, an inside man Barry (Steve Valentine), Jean-Pierre (James Badge Dale) and Albert (Ben Schwartz) help put the daring plan in motion.

Under Robert Zemeckis’ (“Back to the Future”) painstaking direction, the film’s walk in the clouds becomes a love letter to New York City, and the strength and endurance of its people in the wake of 9/11.

Already the subject of the superb Oscar-winning 2008 documentary “Man on Wire,” Petit’s adventures are fresh fodder for a fictional re-telling. Co-screenwriters Christopher Browne and Zemeckis marvel at Petit’s tenacity, using his memoir “To Reach the Clouds” to build on, careful to focus on the bravery and boldness.


Gordon-Levitt (“50-50”) vigorously inhabits the optimistic Pettit with a joie de vivre that’s contagious. He displays Petit’s stubbornness, whimsy, arrogance and impatience at times. Achieving a flawless French accent too, he has diligently portrayed this charismatic pied piper who believed in himself and the beauty of his dream.

An affable supporting cast capably provides necessary comic relief to cut the tension, not to mention their amusing ability to evade the authorities.

What Works

Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (“The Martian”) masterfully provides breathtaking, sweeping shots of the Manhattan skyline, and induces awe and wonder through the camera angles of the derring-do.

If you thought a gymnastic balance beam width was too narrow, watching what Petit does on that slim wire for 45 minutes during his crazy illegal stunt is astonishing.

What Petit achieved on Aug. 7, 1974, has stood the test of time, and the filmmakers dazzle us with the details. The spectacle is 3-D worthy.

Despite knowing the outcome, I was thrilled by the you-are-there aspect, and the tension was very real.

What I did not expect was how poignant the finale would be, a fitting tribute to the pillars that once defined the skyline and now symbolize American ideals.

3 1/2 stars out of 4

  • Director: Robert Zemeckis
  • Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Ben Kingsley, and Steve Valentine.
  • Rated: PG for thematic elements involving perilous situations, and for some nudity, language, brief drug references and smoking.
  • Length: 2:03