So, there are the lunatics who mutilated the New York City skyline and there is the impish French street performer who first inspired Gotham to embrace it. “One side’s hate and one is hope,” musician Leon Russell sang in the apropos, “Tight Rope.” (Now that’s someone I never thought I would quote.)
It’s a mistake to dismiss “Forrest Gump” director Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk” as a movie about a goofy stunt. In fact, wirewalker Philippe Petit’s tale is a love letter to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and an illustration of patent optimism.
The surprisingly versatile Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”) plays the artist, bringing a contagious elation to the film which opens with the actor narrating, perched atop the Statue of Liberty’s torch. This is a great time to mention that this one’s best appreciated in 3D, one of the few that actually are.
His story opens in Paris with the random perusal of a magazine that exposes him to the towers which would become his obsession. He teams with an aspiring singer (Charlotte Le Bon), his first accessory to a caper he calls “The Coup,” then later adds a photographer to the entourage. Under and after the reluctant tutelage of circus professional Papa Rudy (the always wonderful Ben Kingsley) they set out for Manhattan.
“It’s impossible,” Petit says, embracing then gazing upwards at the base of the north tower, “But I know I’ll do it!” He does, of course, but not before the recruitment of additional accomplices, a few setbacks and fully 40 minutes of harrowing mischief. Or art. Depending on perspective.
And what perspective! Zemeckis projects the majesty of Petit’s own, whether between the towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral where he performed his first newsworthy walk or 1,300 feet above Manhattan, the summit of his dream. Which is, after all, the real story — the act, that unexplainable impulse that drives someone to sail solo around the world, climb a sheer rock face … or, just attach dozens of helium balloons to a lawn chair. (Now there’s a role that would put Randy Quaid back on top!)
For these, it is enough to say simply that they are compelled. If you get that, you’ll find “The Walk,” satisfying and Gordon-Levitt’s performance joyful.
If not, as the French say, “C’est la vie,” which, roughly translated, means, “stop calling them French fries, we had nothing to do with those gastric abominations.”