As a small boy, this reviewer read with excitement about the exploits of the great French 19th century tight-rope walker Charles Blondin who crossed the 1,100ft Niagara Gorge, many times in fact. Growing up, I followed the exploits of the eponymous Lt. Theo Kojak patrolling the mean streets of Manhattan South in the 1970's TV cop series. In the late-1990s I was able to visit New York City.
There is much romance surrounding the Empire State building. In 1957 it was the setting for the romantic film 'An Affair to Remember' starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The 1993 film 'Sleepless in Seattle' starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, is in truth, really little more than a reworking of that older film. Getting to the top of the building is hard work and takes a long time, and that is with using the series of lifts to get you there. At the top you discover that even a famous horse was there too.
By contrast the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center seemed a let down. Sure, they were an iconic sight, briefly seen in many movies such as 'Working Girl' (1988), and even functioning as a prop in 'Escape from New York' (1981). But the large, fast, and functional lifts, shot you up to the top of the building in no time at all. This all changed for me on Tuesday 11th September 2001. Watching live on the TV, I found the scenes almost impossible to believe. For many months it was difficult to accept the reality of what had happened. Now I am always happy to see a shot of the towers, such as in the opening sequence of HBO's TV series 'The Sopranos' (1999-2007), and would have preferred it to have been retained.
In this new film, 'The Walk' (2015), Director Robert Zemeckis, has penned a screenplay from the book 'To Reach the Clouds', that tells a true story of the early days of the Twin Towers. The story could be considered unbelievable, but this film is in fact a true representation of this astonishing story.
The film is narrated, thus giving us the audience the needed exposition. The early part of the film is set in Paris, France, and is cleverly filmed in a distinctive French-style. Innovative use is made of black-and white photography, subtitles and French-mime to help tell the story of a young street performer working the streets of Paris who uses mime and his juggling skills. His name is Philippe Petit, and in this film he is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The era is the late-sixties, and this is shown well. Philippe himself is a self-proclaimed anarchist. He also has an ambitious dream which is accurately and authentically captured in this film. In 1968, at the age of 17, he reads about the building of the Twin Towers and resolves to walk from one tower to another on a tightrope stretched across the top of the towers.
Before that though we have a nice romance between Philippe and Annie, played by Charlotte Le Bon. We have too, in this film, Ben Kingsley playing the role of an old high-wire performer, teaching his protégé the ropes. We get believable and thoughtful performances from the star and the supporting actors. Philippe, in 1971, walks between the towers of the cathedral of Notre Dame, shown in this film, and in 1973, did a walk at the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, though this is not in the film.
Now Philippe resolves to carry out his ambition at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City in the USA. This is where the rest of the film is located. Philippe recruits his supporters and they plan their coup. There is a time-element here, as the Towers are nearing completion. Detailed planning is also required and equipment is needed too. It is determined that a 450LB cable will be required as well as a specially made 55LB 26ft balancing pole. The gap between the towers was 200ft, the height above ground 1,368ft. The coup was planned for 7th of August 1974, one week before Philippe's 25th birthday.
While the acting is good, and the contrast between Paris and New York is shown authentically, and cleverly, by the different styles of filming, it is the special-effects that make this film. This reviewer saw the 3D version of this film. It was one of the main draws of the film and it must be doubted that this film could have been made as authentically before now. The camera shoots up and down the Twin Towers as well as across the wire. It looks down at the wire, and then swoops down to the ground. The effect is truly breathtaking. The tension is there throughout the latter part of the film. There too, are you, on the wire, looking up, and down.
It is clear how dangerous and foolhardy was this coup that Philippe Petit attempted. Nowadays, he would be declared an adrenalin junkie. No doubt he was that. This attempt can now never be replicated. I had thought that the WTC should not have been built on. I was wrong. It is right that something bigger and better should be built. The human spirit should always strive to go onwards and upwards.
The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center remain, always, an iconic vision of New York City, as well as the indomitable symbol of soaring ambition, vision, and the spirit of humanity throughout the world. Now Philippe Petit and Robert Zemeckis have given it it's own magic and romance too.
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