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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

Only 140 feet.

It's not such a long distance, really. It's less than half a football field, less than an Olympic swimming pool. It's 50 paces on your Fitbit, maybe 30 seconds out of your day. I walk more than 140 feet to get to the water cooler. No, a 140-foot walk isn't a remarkable achievement.

But do that walk on a steel cable a quarter-mile up in the air, and that's something else again.

Frenchman Phillippe Petit fell in love with the high wire as a child. "For me, to walk on the wire is life," he says, and indeed, by the early 1970s, he's lived much of it there. He walks on it. He dances on it. He juggles on it. Yes, he's fallen from it, too, but that is part of the thrill. And the higher the wire, the greater the thrill.

One day he stretches a line between the great towers of Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, walking above the milling morning tourists 200 feet below. He's arrested for his trouble, but no matter: The stunt earns him accolades from across Europe. And if there's anything Phillippe loves more than the wire itself, it's the praise that comes from balancing on it.

But as tall and impressive as Notre Dame's towers may be, they're dwarfed by a pair of high-rise pillars pushing up in Manhattan.

Construction on the World Trade Center is almost complete. Blocky, gray and gleaming, they're the two highest manmade structures in the world, and a symbol of America's might and ambition. They stand 1,362 feet and 1,368 feet, respectively—nearly 400 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower. That's 110 stories up. You don't need an oxygen mask if you go to the roof—but some smelling salts might come in handy if you happen to look down.

Phillippe looks at a picture of the twin towers, marveling at the scale. Then he takes out a pen and slowly, almost lovingly, draws a line between the two skyscrapers.

To walk on the wire is life, Phillippe said. And if he could walk on that wire between these buildings … well, what a 140-foot walk that would be.

Positive Elements

Phillippe's dream of walking between the two tallest buildings at the World Trade Center comes with a passel of problems, most of which we'll unpack later. But you gotta give the fearless Frenchman credit for his gumption. "It's impossible, but I'll do it," he says. And while lots of folks look on languidly as their dreams fall away around them, Phillippe is willing to work really, really hard to make this particular dream come true.

Phillippe takes a few strides forward as a person during the course of The Walk. As a cocksure youth, he rejects any notion that he should "thank" the audience or show them any appreciation, despite insistence from Papa Rudy (his high-wire mentor) that, without the audience, there is no performance. He takes the support and help of his friends and girlfriend (Annie) for granted, only offering the most cursory of thank-yous the night before. But while on the wire, Phillippe says he's suddenly overwhelmed with a feeling he admits he never felt before. "I feel thankful," he says, and he kneels on the wire as a salute to his audience.

Spiritual Content

Notre Dame, obviously, is a Catholic Cathedral. We see a cross hanging in Papa Rudy's home. While we don't hear much about Phillippe's faith, it seems he's a big believer in portents. When he reaches the World Trade Center and is overwhelmed by the buildings' height, he nearly gives up hope: "There's no sign telling me it can be done," he says. Just then, a one-way door opens that leads to a stairway to the top, and Phillippe gets everything he was hoping for. He lunges for the open door and begins his reconnaissance work. (Later, a bird is interpreted by Phillippe as a bad omen.)

Sexual Content

Phillippe and Annie kiss and cuddle. They share a bed, and it's implied that Phillippe is naked. He disrobes on the top of one of the Towers, flailing around in the nude. (The camera catches a long-distance view of his bare backside a time or two.)

Violent Content

While scoping out the World Trade Center, still under construction at this point, Phillippe steps on a nail. The thing shoots straight through his foot, and we see its now-red tip sticking out the other end of his shoe. Throughout the rest of the story, Phillippe's foot is bandaged, and blood sometimes seeps from the wound, through his footwear and even onto the steel cable that he walks.

Phillippe falls off high-wire cables a few times, once into a lake, another time at a circus. A wire pulls free from its mooring, sending him flying. He imagines a co-conspirator—one who is, incidentally, terrified of heights—falling down an elevator shaft.

[Spoiler Warning] While walking the wire between the Trade Center towers, something comes loose and the wire gives way. Phillippe would certainly meet a pulverizing end, had this scene been more than a horrific imagining in his own mind.

Crude or Profane Language

Six s-words. A handful of other inappropriate exclamations include "a--," "b--ch," "b--tard," "h---" and "p---ed." God's name is misused two or three times, once with "d--n." Jesus' name is abused three times, not counting the stand-in "jeez."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Needing some other co-conspirators on short notice, Phillippe turns to a couple of marijuana-smoking lagabouts—one of whom thinks that the stunt being so "high" is, well, the height of humor. (Both eventually abandon the project, which thus allows The Walk to portray these drug abusers in a more negative light.) There's speculation that a sleeping guard may be on drugs. Phillippe and Annie share a bottle of wine. He and his crew toast with and drink champagne. Beer is quaffed.

Other Negative Elements

"I don't believe in getting permits," Phillippe says from the very beginning, and he considers his performances to be an act of anarchistic art. So he's completely unconcerned (nay, excited) by the fact that his dream of walking on a wire between the Twin Towers is extravagantly illegal. Indeed, much of the movie is dedicated to showing how Phillippe evades detection. He regularly masquerades as different people, and half his team pretends to be security-fence builders in order to get to the rooftop. When they go to a local electronics store, they're looking for a wired intercom system so the police can't listen in on their conversations. (The salesman misunderstands their French and surmises they may be trying to rob a bank—not that he necessarily has a problem with that.)

Phillippe leaves home on bad terms with his father, who has no regard for the boy's love of the high wire.


The Walk is based on a true story. In fact, it's based on the book On the High Wire, written by Phillippe Petit himself. As such, we know that the man makes it to the credits alive.

You'd think that'd let you breathe easier while watching. It does not. Not even for Phillippe Petit.

"Watching the movie, I truly was on the edge of my seat," he told The New York Daily News. "I was praying for this guy, hoping he'd make it. I forgot that, oh, right, I am the guy!"

The Walk is rated PG. But it may also be the most frightening movie I've reviewed in years. If I could've covered my eyes for the last 30 minutes, I might've done just that. It just goes to show you that you don't need a lot of R-rated content to make a pretty thrilling feature.

That's all good. There are no biblical admonitions against thrilling cinema, after all. But this movie is also a bit troubling, and that's rooted in its very effectiveness. For some moviegoers, The Walk will be taken as more than just a well-crafted biopic about a man who followed a quirky dream; it'll be taken as a suggestion that we, too, should follow our dreams—even if those dreams are really, really stupid. And dangerous. And illegal.

I love Phillippe's philosophy of living life to the fullest. I'm a big believer in dream-chasing. And I appreciate the importance of taking risks. But I don't want to encourage my son to, say, chase a dream of jumping the Grand Canyon on a jet-bike, or plunging down Niagara Falls in a refrigerator box. When he was 6, the kid once planned to jump out of his second-story window onto a pile of pillows, so it's not like he needs much encouragement.

Come to think of it, that pile of pillows is exactly where this film lands. It's padded and protected by not being some R-rated splatterfest that's inadvisable, really, for anyone to watch. But it makes it seem awfully fun and interesting to go ahead and jump from the window.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

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Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range





Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit; Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy; Charlotte Le Bon as Annie Allix; James Badge Dale as Jean-Pierre; Ben Schwartz as Albert; Steve Valentine as Barry Greenhouse


Robert Zemeckis ( )





Record Label



In Theaters

September 30, 2015

On Video

January 5, 2016

Year Published



Paul Asay

Content Caution

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