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An eccentric street performer who ekes out a living by walking a tightrope and doing a bit of juggling, Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) first comes across the as-yet unbuilt Twin Towers in a magazine in a dentist’s waiting room. Right then and there, he decides that it's perfect place to “put my wire,” as he puts it. It’s a pivotal scene at the start of The Walk, a thrilling drama based on the true story of how Philippe spent six years planning his “coup” and walked across a tightrope stretched between the two towers of the World Trade Center. The movie opens today at Regal Crocker Park and then opens area-wide on Oct. 9.
At the time that Philippe starts to think about how he can pull off his “coup,” he meets Annie (Charlotte Le Bon), a street musician who shares his artistic passion, and ‘Papa’ Rudy Omankowsky (Ben Kingsley), a veteran tightrope-walker who agrees to tell him his “secrets.” They encourage and nurture his desire to do the unthinkable.
While the build-up to the actual “walk” takes some time, it’s time well spent as Philippe’s passion begins to resemble madness and his girlfriend and crew members must reel him in. Much like Man on a Wire, the terrific 2008 British-American biographical documentary film about Petit’s stunt, The Walk proceeds as if it’s a heist film. Philippe wrangles some fake IDs so that he and his friends will be able to access the roof. And there’s a certain amount of luck that must fall their way in order for them to get to the roof and then string a tightrope and some supporting wires across the two towers.
It’s not giving anything away to say that Philippe eventually pulls it off — his success has been well-documented. Director Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) deserves credit for using 3-D to show just how beautiful “the walk” really was. The shots of Philippe on the tightrope are simply stunning and so tense, they’ll make your palms sweat. If anything, Zemeckis often tries too hard to make Philippe into a mystic. The film successfully suggests his passion for his “art” on numerous occasions by showing his enthusiasm for performing; the voiceover he delivers while perched atop the Statue of Liberty isn’t necessary. But that’s a minor quibble with an otherwise magical movie.