‘The Walk’ celebrates Petit’s high-flying N.Y. stroll

Scott Bowles, USA Today

High-wire acts can be thrilling, says Robert Zemeckis, but they offer few vantage points.

Philippe Petit walked a high wire strung between the World Trade Center buildings in New York in 1974. Photo: David Livingston, Getty Images

Philippe Petit Photo: David Livingston, Getty Images

“We always see the most boring angle in high-wire walking: We’re just looking up,” says the director, who will offer a new perspective in The Walk (due Oct. 2, 2015), about the famous tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City 40 years ago Thursday. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit, the French acrobat who pulled off the stunt.

Walk, which just wrapped filming in 3-D, will give moviegoers Petit’s perspective, a quarter-mile above stunned police and pedestrians. “Now we can put people up there,” says Zemeckis of the towers, which were destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Though the film has been in development for more than eight years, Tristar expedited production after chairman Tom Rothman was impressed by another high-flying film, Gravity.

“This is Gravity meets Ocean’s Eleven,” says Rothman. “You’ve got an underdog team planning what’s actually an endearing crime.”

Indeed, police dropped all charges after Petit agreed to perform for children in a high-wire act above a lake in Central Park. Petit, just 24 at the time, would become one of the world’s favorite scoundrels.

“He wasn’t trying to steal money or sell plutonium,” says Zemeckis, who interviewed Petit for hours for the movie. “He was just trying to create performance art. And he created this beautiful, human moment that changed the way we looked at the towers.”

But what Petit remembers is the serenity of stepping out onto that string for a stroll.

“It’s very intimate, to feel you’re that near heaven,” Petit says.

The Walk is based on Petit’s 2002 book To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers,which also was the basis for the 2008 Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire. The new film features Ben Kingsley as Petit’s mentor and Charlotte Le Bon as a member of Petit’s ragtag crew, which donned costumes to break into the under-construction towers. They helped the French acrobat walk for 45 minutes along a cable strung 1,350 feet above the ground.

Zemeckis views the film as “a love story to the city, to the towers. He’s the only person who ever walked it, who ever will. There’s something beautifully powerful about that.”

Petit thinks the film could offer a stunning view of that morning, second only to his own.

“Imagine the grandeur,” he says. “There’s such elation when it’s just the birds, the sky, and you.”

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