Just 20 days after September 11, it’s hard to believe the topic of the Twin Towers could conjure up inspirational and happy thoughts, but “The Walk“ did just that. Based on the book, “To Reach the Clouds,” by Philippe Petit and directed by Robert Zemeckis, “The Walk” is the true story of Petit’s high-wire walk between the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Philippe Petit, a French high-wire artist who was always coming up with cool places to put up his wire and walk. As if the rush of walking a ½ inch wire at high altitudes was not enough, Philippe liked to add the element of illegality to the venture! In 1971 he was arrested after walking across the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. While reading the article about his Notre Dame escapade, his girlfriend, Annie, played by Charlotte Le Bon, pointed out an article announcing the completion of the Twin Towers. She knew that from the moment Philippe heard about their construction, he was obsessed with a desire to walk the gap between the towers. He saw this coincidence as a sign that it was time to put his dream into action. He called the project a “coup,” planned the target date of August 6, 1974, took a trip to New York to scope out the scene, and set out to recruit a team of “accomplices.” He somehow made his way up to the roof and imagined placing his rope across the Towers. He narrated, that he “whispered, so the demons would not hear, ‘it’s impossible, but I will do it’.” I found the irony of his reference to [the buildings’] demons very eerie.
I heard someone say he was over-acting, but I thought Levitt’s French accent was tres bien! Charlotte Le Bon did a good job portraying Annie, who was supportive of Petit, but wasn’t too thrilled about living in his shadow. She was a talented musician but became consumed with the planning and execution of the “coup.” Sir Ben Kingsley plays Philippe’s mentor, Papa Rudy, who came from a long line of wire-walkers, which included his own sons. Even though he required Philippe to pay for all of his training and often harsh advice, Papa Rudy believed in Philippe and genuinely cared about him. The accomplices each contribute to the suspense as well as the humor of the movie, two of them proved that when it comes to trusting people, you should take heed of your first instinct – the other “coup” members had a bad feeling about these two and sure enough, they both bailed when their help was needed the most.
Let’s not ignore the “elephant” though. I am a native New Yorker and lost a very close friend, Joe Hunter, on September 11, 2001. http://www.firehero.org/fallen-firefighter/joseph-g-hunter/ He was one of the first responders at the World Trade Center and ironically, the day I screened the movie would have been his 46th birthday. Thus, I have to admit, tears were shed at certain points in the movie, not only for Joe and for all the souls that were lost that day, but also for the Towers themselves, which were larger than life and had their own “soul”. While this movie tells Philippe’s story, it is also an homage to the Towers, spotlighting their massive features and depicting them in all their glory. Once the tallest buildings in the world, the Twin Towers were always in the news. Having grown-up in the 70s, I was in elementary school when Philippe performed this historical stunt, so you can imagine how proud I was to live in the Empire State. Not only was it home to a long list of historical landmarks, which included the Statue of Liberty, Yankees Stadium, the Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center, but its additional claim to fame was that the Twin Towers were also the site of this world-famous walk. This made the observation deck of the Towers one of the coolest field trip destinations! I remember looking out at the city from that observation deck; it was an amazing view and very scary being up so high. I would never dream of leaning over the ledge, let alone walking across a wire!
Philippe was the only man to ever dream-up and accomplish this breathtaking feat and will hold that title forever. I’m sure many New Yorkers will get teary-eyed as the camera pans to an immense view of the Towers, which is why I feel this movie should have been released on August 7 – to honor the anniversary, instead of screening it during the month of September. But for the most part, watching “The Walk” will make you feel exhilarated and maybe even inspire you to garner the courage to check-off something challenging from your own “bucket list!” – BMT