Joseph-Gordon-Levitt Takes “The Walk”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Back in February I met Philippe Petite, the high-wire artist who walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center one misty August morning in 1974. We were discussing “Man On Wire,” the documentary about his amazing feat. Being French he calls it “le coup.”
Now “The Walk” is showing at the Tropic Cinema.
Although Philippe Petit owns a hideaway in upstate New York, he spends a lot of time in Key West. But he took some time off to help with the film’s technical aspects ... like teaching the young actor how to walk the tightrope. “After two weeks, we put a wire up 6-feet high, 30-feet long, and he did a single crossing by himself,” Philippe says like a proud papa. “He actually was very good.”
For the role, Joseph Gordon-Levitt also had to perfect a Parisian accent. That’s because Philippe started off as a street performer in Paris, working as a juggler and magician before mastering the tightrope. Gordon-Levitt’s French Canadian co-star Charlotte Le Bon (“The Hundred-Foot Journey”) helped him with nuances of the language, being that she makes her home in Paris.
“The Walk” unfolds like a heist film. Philippe Petit and his cohorts break into the World Trade Center with the help of an inside man, a flamboyant mustachioed insurance executive named Barry Greenhouse (played by Steve Valentine).
At the time Greenhouse was working on the 82nd floor of the South Tower, the highest occupied level in the WTC. He’d met Philippe Petit in Paris. “This kid comes along with a top hat and a unicycle, then slings a rope between a couple of trees,” he recalls the encounter. “I think he not only walked on it, he rode the unicycle. Is that possible?”
Greenhouse provided the fake identification, equipment storage, and access to the towers. “I didn’t think it through too much,” he admits. “Philippe sucks you in.”
Petit and one of his accomplices -- a guy who is afraid of heights --hid for hours on the top floor of the World Trade Center under a tarp to elude watchmen. Then after a number of heart-stopping mishaps, he walks onto the 7/8”-thick wire he’d strung between the two 110-story-high towers.
Why would you want to see “The Walk” if you’ve already seen the masterful Oscar-winning documentary, “Man On Wire”? Simply for the thrills.
The use of 3D and green screens will make you think you’re up there a quarter-mile above the street on a razor-thin wire with Philippe Petit.
While the narration by Joseph Gordon-Levitt sitting atop the Statue of Liberty may be a bit over the top, his performance -- like the elfin redhead he’s portraying -- is charming. And his high-wire artistry shows skill.
“He has a talent for it,” says Philippe Petit. “He became me.”