2015 Certificate: pg

Synopsis

Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows a head for heights as French high-wire artist Philippe Petit in the dizzying story of his attempt to walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. But while he undoubtedly had the nerve to fulfil his impossible dream, he had to get up there first... As a director who loves a challenge, Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Flight) is just the man to bring together the backstory, the co-conspirators, and the dizzying visual tricks required to stage "the artistic coup of the century". Don't look down.

Director

  • Robert Zemeckis

Cast

  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt

  • Ben Kingsley

  • Charlotte Le Bon

  • James Badge Dale

  • Ben Schwartz

  • Steve Valentine

  • Sergio Di Zio

Review

PG or no PG, some people will find The Walk the most terrifying film of the year. Perhaps of all time.

Because if you've got even the slightest fear of heights, you'll be spending the final third with one hand covering your eyes and the other grabbing onto something - anything - for dear life. The only thing that could possibly make it any more head-swimmingly stressful is if it was in 3D. Or IMAX. Or both...

Still, it's unlikely that anyone of a vertiginous nature would come within a New York City block of a film about some crazy Frenchman taking a stroll over 110 storeys of fresh air on a tightrope. Without a net, a harness, or even a particularly good reason for doing it.

To Robert Zemeckis' credit, he eases everyone in gently, allowing Gallic exhibitionist Phillippe Petit (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with an ow-you-say passable accent) to present his own story. So however shredded your nerves become, you know he'll make it.

It begins in whimsical, near-silent movie style, introducing our hero as a Chaplinesque street performer (with nods to Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd) plying his trade in the idealised version of Paris beloved of Jeunet's ​Amélie and Scorsese's ​Hugo.

Whilst honing the tricks of the rope-walking trade passed on to him by his old circus mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), Phillippe woos a pretty fellow artiste (Charlotte Le Bon) and befriends a photographer (Benedict Samuel) who's keen to chart his rise.

Never seeing a span he didn't want to cross, Phillippe first conquers the spires of Notre Dame (though there's no mention of his 1973 jaunt over the Sydney Harbour Bridge) before stepping up to the ultimate challenge between New York's Twin Towers: 200 feet across; 1,378 feet down.

With the holy grail in sight and a team of willing accomplices assembled - including James Badge Dale as a volunteer with vertigo (really?) - we're now firmly in caper territory.

Yet despite a plan to make Danny Ocean proud, all the last-minute hiccups and hindrances ensure that everyone has the jitters before Phillippe even sets foot on the wire.

Although it's all based on Petit's memoir, the dramatic embellishments may raise a few eyebrows - and possibly a few yawns. Anyone looking for the harder facts is strongly advised to seek out James Marsh's Oscar-winning documentary ​Man On Wire.

However, since no video footage was ever taken, it's up to Zemeckis and his crew to reimagine what it was like up there. And as you've been warned, they do a height-hater's hell of a job.

It's only when the giddiness passes that you realise you've witnessed not only an incredible true story but a fitting tribute to an unforgettable landmark.

Elliott Noble