'The Walk' Brings Philippe Petit To The Big Screen

In The Walk, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Philippe Petit, a Frenchman who, in the 1970s, decides he wants to walk on a tightrope between the two Twin Towers in New York City. Of course, the stunt isn't exactly legal, and the film follows Phillipe as he recruits a team of engineers and adventurists to help him plot how to set up the con in one of New York City's most famous buildings without getting caught by police. The film is from director Robert Zemeckis, best known for Back to the Future and Forrest Gump — two movies that don't exactly scream true story. And The Walk, which is being marketed as an IMAX, 3-D event movie, doesn't seem all that more believable. However, The Walk is based on a true story — specifically that of real life daredevil Philippe Petit, who walked on a tightrope from the South Tower to the North Tower — a 130-foot journey that took place one quarter of a mile up in the air — on Aug. 7, 1974. Petit later wrote a memoir, To Reach The Clouds, upon which the film is based.

To ensure the movie represented reality well, Petit worked hand in hand with Zemeckis after the filmmaker approached him about making his daring walk into a feature film. According to an interview with The New York Times, when Zemeckis originally approached him to adapt his memoir, the film was pitched as putting Petit in the forefront — as narrator and star. Eventually, the film changed course, becoming a more straightforward biopic with Gordon-Levitt in the lead role.

Before filming began, Gordon-Levitt was invited to spend a week at Petit's home in upstate New York, where the acrobat taught him how to walk the tightrope with intensive training. Of course, training with Petit was still a far cry form walking across the Twin Towers.

"It became easy for me. I could walk forward and backward on a wire that was two feet off the ground. No problem. But when the wire was moved up to 12 feet, no matter how much I told myself this is all fine, my body just seized up. As soon as you start thinking that you're really high up, you start shaking. And then, you're sunk," Gordon-Levitt told the The Los Angeles Times.

Petit's most famous stunt was previously seen on the big screen in the Oscar-winning documentary, Man on Wire, released in 2008. Whether or not this newest onscreen adaptation of Petit's famous high wire act will be as successful as the documentary remains to be seen.

Images: TriStar Pictures