Thrilling and visceral spectacle at great height

Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in The Walk  PA Photo/Sony Pictures
Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in The Walk PA Photo/Sony Pictures

THE WALK (PG, 123 mins) Drama/Romance/Action. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, Sir Ben Kingsley, Clement Sibony, Cesar Domboy, Steve Valentine, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel. Director: Robert Zemeckis.

Released: October 2 (selected IMAX Cinemas); October 9 (UK & Ireland)

Directors frequently treat the 3D and IMAX 3D formats as an afterthought to bolster box office takings rather than a powerful tool in the filmmaking armament.

In the last five years, only The Life Of Pi, Gravity and Everest have harnessed the eye-popping technology with genuine purpose and elan, and set our pulses racing in the process.

Robert Zemeckis, Oscar-winning director of Forrest Gump and the Back To The Future series, joins that elite club with his dramatisation of Philippe Petit’s incredible walk along a wire strung between the two towers of the World Trade Center on August 7, 1974.

Harnessing state-of-the-art digital trickery, Zemeckis places us on that wire with the French daredevil and induces a palpable, stomach-churning sense of vertigo as Petit walks across the divide, more than 400 metres above the early morning bustle of Lower Manhattan.

“Don’t look down,” Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) instructs one of his accomplices with a twinkle in his eye.

We wish we could do the same, but Zemeckis’ swooping camera offers a bird’s eye view of New York from below and above the wire.

Philippe hones his circus skills on the streets of the French capital, where he meets his beautiful busker Annie (Charlotte Le Bon).

A newspaper article about the construction of the World Trade Center fires Philippe’s imagination and he concocts a hare-brained scheme to traverse the 140 feet of air between the two buildings.

Circus ringmaster Papa Rudy (Sir Ben Kingsley) helps Philippe to prepare for the physical rigours, despite serious misgivings about the perilous endeavour.

“What you’re doing - I may not understand it but it’s something beautiful,” Rudy confesses tenderly.

Philippe subsequently flies to the Big Apple with Annie, official photographer Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony) and Jean-Francois (Cesar Domboy), who is afraid of heights.

The wire walker adds Americans to the team, including inside man Barry Greenhouse (Steve Valentine), who works on the 82nd floor of the south tower.

The accomplices divide and simultaneously break into the two towers to secure a wire under the cover of darkness so the daredevil can begin his record-breaking attempt as the sun rises.

As a thrilling, visceral spectacle, The Walk is on a sure footing.

Alas, as a piece of storytelling, the film frequently stumbles and fails to replicate the nerve-shredding tension of James Marsh’s Oscar-winning 2008 documentary Man On Wire.

Gordon-Levitt affects a comical cod-French accent as the ringmaster of this illegal escapade, bookmarking each stage of the plan with effusive narration from atop the Statue of Liberty.

Supporting characters are sketched in perfunctory detail, nudging along the linear narrative to its heart-stopping conclusion when one man tests his resolve against the relentless pull of gravity.

RATING: 6/10