director: Robert Zemeckis
writers: Robert Zemeckis
starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon and Guillaume Baillargeon
genre: Adventure | Biopic | Drama
released: 9 October 2015 (USA)
Being somewhat afraid of heights I was curious if I would feel frightened by the heights walked by Phillipe Petit in the film, despite knowing perfectly well that it’s just a film. Surprisingly, I acted in the same way people who are afraid of the supernatural when they see ghost films. Having gotten kind of nervous and uncomfortable with the film's events and where it came to the point that my palms got sweaty and I was constantly pushing myself further back within my seat. Which is a testament to this film’s execution of showing how dangerous one man’s art may be and also how sweaty my palms can get.
Phillipe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) viewed his wire walking as an art form of sorts and to almost be at one with his environment and audience. He always looking for a new place to put his wire and one day while waiting at a dentist he witnessed the marvel of the new Twin Towers being built in a magazine article. He then knew that this was the best place to put his wire and amaze people of the lengths human madness can take us.
At first I wasn’t interested with this film’s existence because I was already aware of the critically acclaimed and awarded documentary about Phillipe Pettit’s wire walking and thought what’s the point. Not only in terms of viewing it, but also in its production. As I thought it would never be able to get the awards or acclaim that the documentary received and also possibly not succeed in showing audiences the dangers of wire walking. Ultimately, it did succeed in showing how dangerous wire walking is, while also being entertaining at the same time. As we humans do get a kick when a man or woman puts their life on the line for our pleasure. And while the film doesn’t have many negatives in general, it’s biggest issue is perhaps its overuse of green screen at times. While also the decision to pick an American over a French actor to portray the famed wire walker.
Undeniably these two things which I am griping about are ultimately not important while also an almost given in modern cinema. Thankfully, to my ears and eyes Levitt’s accent and performance of a French man is pretty good, which is also due to the fact that Levitt already was fluent in French for years. Moreover, regarding the visual effects they are impeccable in terms of overall usage and budget, but not in their seamless integration to the environment. Which is what every CGI film should aspire to do. Were you would never think of the effects as a CGI effect but as an extension of the story (think Avatar, Planet of the Apes). Although this is not the case in the film with it having minor hiccups here and there. Especially with Levitt’s face being CGI'ed on a stuntman or wire walker in a number of scenes. Namely ones that aren’t even at great heights and also the usage of a lot of backdrop shots of the skyline or buildings that don't look all the time that realistic. This wasn’t the case the whole film but it was enough that it took me out of the experience a couple of times and that much of it was filmed on a stage and not on a real location or at least fool us into believe so.
Another place of contention many might have with the film but ends up being not as important is the veracity of the events that took place. Such as a couple of scenes during the Twin Towers wire walk where you might believe these scenes didn't truly happen. As they felt either tacked on or put in for more suspense to be had. Such as the fish wire hook from one tower to another with it not being seen and Petit having to take off his clothes to feel it, but then finding it and having to go off the edge of the building to get it. Additionally, the security guard instance on two occasions. However, it so happens all these events did happen. Even more of the events in the film that felt possibly over the top did actually happen and it’s amazing to even think so. From the inside man, the bird moment while on the wire to a point and a lot of other things. Which only makes Philip Pettit’s acts even more incredible and over the top in scope of what a man would do to put himself in danger and the hoops to get to that point. As you wonder did it all go down so immaculately and while a few moments might have been embellished or ever so slightly altered. Based on a couple of articles online you will find that it wasn’t taken that far at all.
Furthermore, the narration of the film done by Petit while standing on top of the Statue of Liberty is kind of abrupt and laughable at first but makes complete sense to the character in the film and the personality of Petit in real life. As he is larger than life and would put himself constantly in danger and naturally with no safety net or hooks. Also the way he speaks about his wire walking as an art and uses a lot of philosophical notions of how he is communicating with the world around him are actually true to how Petit speaks and acts. Go see a couple of interviews of him on YouTube and you will see that the production and Levitt did nail his personality and character rather nicely.
Additionally, I might have complained about the CGI a bit, but if it weren’t for the CGI with also the direction of Robert Zemeckis. This film wouldn’t have made me personally feel the tension during Petit’s wire walk or audiences tremble at just the idea of being on the edge of any building at that height. As the shots and angles chosen to show off his wire walking while also Petit's playful antics with the cops while on the wire. Bump the suspense and anticipation incredibly as you are in utter disbelief that he didn’t fall off and die. It’s crazy not to think that he wouldn’t but he didn’t. Making it one of those films that even though you know the ultimate fate of the character, you still need to see the story to believe it.
Horror films are supposed to be our go to for a good scare, but who said that survival films such as ‘Buried’, ‘127 Hours’ or films about unfathomable feats aren’t as scary and petrifying to the human mind. To me it’s more horrific to think I could be at that height and look down or feel the wind blow next to me and make me think I could fall off just with the slightest of slips. As that is a realistic possibility life may take, instead of found footage of myself in the woods looking for witches. Which is undoubtedly cinema’s job to transport us to these unimaginable situations and make us believe they happened and relive them to the best of the production's abilities. Which is exactly the case with this film.