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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Walk (IMAX 3D) | Joseph Gordon Leavitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The Walk  (IMAX 3D) | Joseph Gordon Leavitt, Ben Kingsley, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Steve Valentine | Review

Don’t look down.

Look up, at the big, big screen.  That’s where you’ll see Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) walking on a wire cable between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  The year is 1974, and one of the towers isn’t even completed yet.  It has 110 stories; Petit has only one – his own - and it starts with an obsession.  And lots of narration.

Actually his story begins several years prior to the tower “coup” (his word) when Petit, a street performer (mime/juggler) in Paris became enthralled by circus wire walkers, leading to training and mentorship under wire artiste Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) head of an acrobatic troupe known as the White Devils.  It sounds better in French.

Petit eventually builds up enough skill to walk between the 200 ft. spires of Notre Dame, gets a high from being THAT high, and sets his sights on the newly built WTC towers from an article he reads in a dentist’s office.  They are 1350 ft. tall, jutting majestically more than a quarter mile above the bustling New York metropolis.

Assembling a crew of accomplices to pull off “le coup”, Petit meticulously studies the buildings’ activities and constructs a plan that takes eight months to realize.  There are false starts, postponements, and near captures.  There are supplies to smuggle, like rope, wire, installation equipment, and a dismantled 55 lb. balance pole.  There are false I.D.s and workers’ uniforms with which to impersonate a construction group needing access to the 110th floor.  There is a bow and arrow.

And finally, there is that moment when Petit takes his foot off of the tower to join the one already on the wire.  That’s when the IMAX 3D effects become heart-stopping and face-grabbing.  This is the moment when the audience accompanies the artist in a step-by-step foray that lasts well beyond just one crossing.

There is no exhaling for quite some time as Petit’s graceful, sure-footed air-stroll incorporates turns, jumps, a kneel-down, and even a lie-down.  Like the world’s slowest base stealer, Petit eludes police on both tower roofs by retreating again and again in the opposite direction.  Unlike baseball, the opposing team can’t follow him.

Petit makes the most of his time in the sky and the public eye, literally reaching the height of his fame with bragging rights to a documented tall tale.

Gordon-Levitt trained with the real Petit and learned high-wire walking and fluent French for the role.  A strong supporting cast includes Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, and Steve Valentine.

Director/co-writer Robert Zemekis (Back to the Future) dramatized the 2008 Academy Award winning documentary Man on Wire and adapted Petit’s book To Reach the Clouds, along with screenwriter Christopher Browne (A League of Ordinary Gentlemen).  The result is a bit uneven – over-narrated by Gordon-Leavitt and only somewhat arresting (pardon the pun) up until the actual wire walk.

Filmed like a zany heist/caper for the first half, the film becomes poetic toward the end, a nostalgic and poignant tribute to the twin towers, their once-mighty majesty and their eventual, tragic absence from the New York skyline.

Petit explains himself, from beginning to end, from his perch on the Statue of Liberty’s torch, difficult to sit through when you know what’s coming.  The buildup is slow, and the payoff when it finally arrives is almost too little, too late.  Almost.

Gordon Levitt’s likeability is a big plus here in a role that can easily spill over into character flaws of arrogance or insanity.  Instead, we are by his side through it all – the planning, the execution, the arrest, and the lifetime pass to the rooftop observatory in one of the towers.

The pass, by the way, had no expiration date.

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