Wednesday, September 30, 2015
With the twin towers and the skyline of New York City as the backdrop, the film opens at a pretty high spot—next to the torch of the Statue of Liberty where the young Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) narrates the film and explains to us why he thinks walking on a high-wire is art. It all begins when he was a child in Paris. With carefully arranged colors, the film shuffles through charming imageries of Philippe as a street artist, where he meets a street musician Annie Allix (Charlotte Le Bon) who becomes his love interest and his first partner-in-crime later. Coached by a Czech circus master Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), Philippe quickly masters the high-wire walking technique.
It doesn't take too long for Philippe to walk between Notre Dame de Paris's two towers without permission. But as soon as he learns that the World Trade Center is being built in the New York City, he sets his incredible goal up high. In order to accomplish his dream, he practices English and recruits more accomplices including a young photographer Jean-Louis (Clément Sibony) and an acrophobic mathematician Jean-François (César Domboy).
Once these French adventurers come to the Big Apple, a few Americans join the gang. As if they are about to rob a bank, the crew painstakingly plan the infiltration inside the twin towers. Not only do they bring all the equipment to the roof which is 101 floors above the ground, but they also successfully install the steel wire while sneaking around the security guards.
When the sun rises up, the fog fades away. Philippe stands on the wire, realizes an once-in-a-lifetime dream, and creates an elegant piece of performance art.
This well-known extraordinary act is the subject in an Academy-award winning documentary "Man on Wire" (2008). Obviously, the director Robert Zemeckis is not going to retell the story in this new film. Instead, with astonishing 3D visual, he literally takes us to the high-wire and guides us into the mind of an outstanding artist. Philippe Petit may be the only human being who walks between the twin towers, but this film allows us to feel the thrill without the danger.
The first half of the film tells Philippe's past in a typical fashion as in the director's previous films such as "Back to the Future" (1985). The dramatic element is watchable but nothing too exciting, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's funny French accent is somewhat distracting due to his familiarity to us. However, when the story moves to New York City, all excitement breaks loose. By the time Joseph Gordon-Levitt stops talking with an accent and walks on the wire, the film literally lifts us into the sky and immerses us into the Philippe's tranquil mind. Overlooking the magnificent view of New York City under the rising sun, we begin to understand why Philippe Petit risked his life to fulfill his dream.
Looking at computer generated twin towers in the film, it's hard not to think about the 9/11 attack. By reenacting Philippe Petit's glorious walk, the film pays lovely tribute to the twin towers where Philippe Petit showed his intimate and passionate affection in person 41 years ago.