Sunday, 1 November 2015

High-Wire Acts

“The Walk”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, perched on a wire more than 400 m above the ground, in "The Walk"

For the acrophobic, The Walk will prove to be more nightmarish than director Robert Zemeckis’s earlier film Flight, starring Denzel Washington, was for those afraid of flying. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Philippe Petit, who, while perched on the Statue of Liberty’s torch, narrates his daring plot – an entirely true story – to suspend a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and walk across it, over 400 metres above the ground.

Zemeckis, cinematic trickster that he is, wastes no opportunity for 3-D visual stunts in filming Petit’s charmingly French origin story, nor in his preliminary visits to the towers, still under construction, nor in the actual walk between them. We take Petit’s point of view, walking to a rooftop a few dozen metres away with a palpable void beneath; we take the crowd’s point of view from the street, surveying the ominous gap between themselves and the wire walker; we see him from above; we see him from below; we plunge down to the street and swoop back up the side of one tower; we move along the wire with him, praying for no lapses in his concentration nor in the load-bearing support of the wires. Petit’s stunt in 1974 took place over about 45 minutes, and though Zemeckis has trimmed this down somewhat, it’s still an awfully long time to be holding your breath.