Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: The Walk – death-defying stunt atop the twin towers

Story about 1974 high-wire walk is also a tribute to the World Trade Center towers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 2:01pm

Although it’s being trumpeted as a big picture, The Walk is quite subtle for a major Hollywood release. Working from the autobiography of Philippe Petit, the wire-walker who tiptoed his way across the gap between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, Robert Zemeckis tells the story effectively while simultaneously composing a delicate elegy to the destroyed building itself.

Petit’s adventure and this funereal subtext knit together very well, and in spite of its location, the film avoids sentimentality and prescience, and ultimately proves touching.

The Walk begins in France, with the young Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovering a knack for keeping his balance. While training with circus high-wire performer Rudy (Ben Kingsley) he sees a newspaper report announcing the construction of the World Trade Center, and decides that an escapade that high up would make his name.

The second part features Petit and a motley crew of assistants scoping out the building, while an extended last act shows the tightrope walk itself. This section is gripping, mainly because Zemeckis exercises restraint and doesn’t try to milk the feat for drama and theatrics.

When the movie premiered at the New York Film Festival, it received an emotional response from the audience. Although the building’s structure was not much loved by New Yorkers, it has become iconic since its destruction.

The terrorist attack is never hinted at, but it haunts every frame. The lax security of the building is highlighted, for instance, by the way Petit and his friends gallivant around the towers compiling information for their walk.

3D films can be distracting, but the effect is used brilliantly here. It’s surprisingly understated – hardly any objects whizz into the audience, and there are none of the expected birds-eye swoops down from the towers. The effect is mainly used to give the impression of seeing things from a great height.

The Walk opens on October 8